Being raised in the Kenyan coast, cassava roots is amongst a familiar food that I had interacted with as breakfast, lunch and supper in most cases. Cassava production practices are less since now that I used to be sent by my mother to source them at Bomani (Likoni) or Kongowea market. The memorable part for me with cassava is during its peeling because I enjoyed eating them raw before being cooked or roast.
However, a privilege of interacting with cassava farmers especially on their planting materials and production practices in coastal Kenya was an eye opening for me to further embrace the precious crop. Furthermore, while I was in high school we were taken for a one week agricultural trip at Egerton University. I was shocked and disturbed when Prof. Lee at Egerton University showed to us a plant raised in a test tube (Tissue culture). I was curious to ask various questions like how is it possible, how does it eat, breath? I prayed that one day I could be the one able to do that. It was a dream come true when I was awarded the opportunity to work in the line cassava tissue culture and to further explore its production through engaging with cassava farmers and laboratory work.
I was involved in focused group discussions and a survey to determine the cassava value chain in Kilifi and Taita Taveta counties . Although I had read in the literature that there are various local and improved cassava varieties, but actuality I had no clue to distinguish one from the other. No one understood my curiosity than farmers whom I did interact in their farms following a lot of questions on differentiating different varieties and their characteristics. I did remember one farmer who told me that Kibandameno despite being a low yielder it is the sweetest of all. Due to that I had to pay to be uprooted the entire crop for Ksh 250 to quench my thirst and for learning as well. Initially, I used to know that there is one cassava, and all have one name, “cassava”.
Through the interaction with farmers I was able to distinguish Kibandameno pink and white in terms of their cortex colour. However, Tajirika is amongst the improved variety that is preferred because of its high yields . Notable, farmers preferred the Kibandameno variety because of its keeping quality in the soil without altering its taste and size however; Tajirika when left in soil for long it results to bursting of roots therefore results to rotting and bitterness. Other interesting variety in Taita Taveta County is Biti Asman. Mr Mwamburi, a farmer in Mwachawazi told me that variety was used to be grown by his grandparents and still continues planting it in his farm. Recent cases had associated with cassava poisoning consumers but this was clearly and practically explained to me by Mr Saidi who told me that, there are varieties that are poisonous and we farmers know them. “Mpira” is the local name of the variety that a sad case of a family of four died after consuming it . The cassava grows tall with long internodes where residents used it as shade.
In literature, cassava had been associated to yield decline as a result of viral diseases that are distributed through vegetative cuttings from infected crops. Currently, use of clean cassava planting materials is amongst the management practices. However, a farmer in Chala, Taveta Sub County told me that when the manifestation of “kitenge” is more on the younger top leaves, she prune the twigs to manage the disease. The “kitenge” is the term she used to describe the mosaic symptoms . I was trying to relate the science behind pruning in managing viral disease but I thought it do have a relation in reducing the viral pathogen in the crop. Although I doubt my explanation, I do remember my classmate who once says that farmers do things mysteriously but they do work despite luck of scientific explanation.
During focused group discussions in Tezo, Mr Nyinge a proactive sub-county agricultural officers, had developed a strong bond with the farmers through his motive in transforming cassava production into a life sustaining activity. He could share success story of cassava that are testimonials by farmers themselves. Mama Patience Dhahabu was amongst the active cassava seed entrepreneurs who was able connect electricity and piped water through the cassava business venture. Currently she had been contracted by Ustadi Foundation to produce cassava seed for other farmers to source. The number of women seed entrepreneurs is increasing where another farmer Caroline Dama had also ventured in this lucrative business. The interaction with farmers had facilitated the awareness of pests and
diseases to the extent of farmers themselves cautioning University of Nairobi during distribution of cuttings that make sure you are not giving us diseased planting materials because I will take a picture and share on the WhatsApp platforms (for both counties) before uprooting it. Implication of this is that, the custodianship of clean planting materials rests solely on farmers and their reactiveness has a potential in increase the cassava productivity and acreage. Although the two counties are different levels of cassava production, the demand by farmers is that “give us cuttings to plant and assure me of market”.
I had further extended my project findings in rapidly availing cassava planting materials through minisetts technology. I had sell 100 minisetts to a farmer in farmer in Kiambu County and 500 minisetts to a farmer in Lodwar, Turkana County. I was impressed when these farmers shared with me their success story having knowing that I can avail a solution to a farmer.
I do thank and acknowledge the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM), the MasterCard Foundation, the University of Nairobi and the Kilifi and Taita Taveta counties farmers who made this a success story. The two counties had been selected due to being noted as amongst the hunger prone counties in 2017. Therefore, the cassava project tries to address the food insecurity issue through the promotion of the cassava value chain.