Farmer Misconceptions of Cassava Diseases, Income and Food Security Opportunities from Cassava Production in Coastal Kenya

Having grown and brought up in western part of Kenya, where cassava is one of the major foods and a week cannot go without ‘Ugali’ made from cassava and sorghum this was my first encounter with the Kenyan coast. I had higher expectations and according to the stories I have been since my childhood about the people in the Kenyan coastal region. This ranging from the low paced life style at the coast, plenty of coconuts, good recipes and beautiful girls along in the Taita region.

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A picture of Antony Livoi, at the background is landscape of Taita-taveta- Mwatate, Voi and Bhughuta hills  taken from the Wundanyi escarpments.

My experience was great and awesome from the long hours of travels from the Nairobi to Kilifi County and the warm high climate temperature. This made me understand why people in this region are used lesos-sheets of cloth as compared to our people in the uplands and the rest of the country.

Illustration of Wesu Hills, a tourist attraction site due to the clean spring waters and endangered tree species

I had a good encounter with farmers in Kilifi County who are growing cassava. To my surprise, cassava is really grown in large quantities in Kilifi than I had ever thought and many local delicacies like ‘Kimanga’, ‘Kibwada Kachiri’, are prepared from cassava as compared to where I come from in western Kenya where we only know of Ugali made from cassava and boiled cassava tubers. The cassava uptake in Kilifi was more high as compared to cassava uptake in Taita taveta counties this was attributed to wide spread Muslim religion in Kilifi where I came to learn that cassava is highly consumed during the Ramadhan season common practice in the among the Muslim community.

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Antony Livoi collecting data on CBB at Farm level in Kilifi County

In my interaction with farmers on cassava diseases in the region, the major cassava diseases cited were; cassava bacterial blight, cassava brown streak, cassava mosaic disease and cassava cesospora leaf spot. Most farmers are aware of the symptoms of these diseases in their fields and to them these symptoms are associated with respective cassava varieties and maturity stages. This showed awareness on cassava farming for optimum production is still very low. One of the farmers we interacted with Ms.Dama Wanje was open to us and indicated that since time immemorial and through her years of growing  cassava, she has known that cassava mosaic symptoms is assign of morphologic variety associated with  Kibandameno. She was greatly shocked to learn that this was a serious cassava disease called cassava mosaic disease. As other farmers in Kayafungo associated defoliation due to cassava bacterial blight as assign of cassava maturity. All in all, this was a great learning experience for them and they enjoyed a friendly discussion on cassava disease explanation.

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Antony Livoi, Scoring for Severity of Cassava Bacterial Blight at a cassava farm in kaloleni, Kilifi County

It was the most exciting moment to note that I was at the lowest altitude levels of 0-5 mm above sea level when I was in Kilifi. This was the most amazing moments when I checked on the GPS which could read as low as 0 m above sea levels something I had never imagined in life could occur. The rich loamy sand soil in Kilifi and massive forest of coconut trees and hot sunshine which could keep on shinning even during the rains were some of the interesting things I was encountering in my life.

Farmers in Taita Taveta were extremely open and welcoming. With a beautiful landscape, nice snaky roads as you ascend the mountains, Taita Taveta County is breath taking. With few coconut plantations, people here are quite active in farming and we could see plantations of maize, bananas, legumes and high forestation activities. This is an area whre I noted that people live in harmony with wildlife since they are surrounded by Tsavo National Park. In one particular incidence we had to close the survey early so as to release the field guide to go home since there was information that lion was spotted roaming aimlessly in the villages. People in the region of Mwatate, Voi, and Dembwa seemed to be used to animals like elephants buffalo something that I found strange since for me I have been seeing this animals only in pictures. To some extend most farmers sited wildlife as a great challenge to cassava farming since baboons could come and uproot their cassava cuttings hence most of them didn’t engage in deeply in cassava farming s compared to the Kilifi people.

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Illustrates a clean plantation of Tajirika (Cassava Variety) at 3 months in Kilifi county

Taveta region which bordering Tanzania was found to be the most active in arming as compared to Taveta region. This was due to availability of the irrigation  scheme that has allowed a number of farmers to engage in massive production of bananas and pulses with little intercrop of some cassava stems mostly at the farm borders just for home consumption in Mboghoni ward of Taveta sub-county. Farmers in this region enjoy a free market access to Tanzania as they can sale their farm produce to Tanzania and access other produce from Tanzania in the larger Taveta market located not far away.

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A typical intercropping of cassava with bananas and cowpea leaves in Taveta sub-county.

In our interaction with farmers in this region, we learnt that cassava has a great opportunity to change people lives by enhancing food security and nutrition, increasing peoples in come in the rural regions. There is much to be done to upscale cassava production so that Kenya can shift from the 1.2 million MT annually to another level and this could be possible by intervention from county government, awareness on business opportunities within cassava farming, support of value addition systems, advocate for improved variety, addressing market fragmentation and provision of sustainable certified healthy planting materials

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Antony Livoi taking a farmer through some of the symptoms of CBB, Mosaic at farm level and highlighting the prevention and control technologies.

Above all I take this opportunity to thank the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM), the Mastercard Foundation and the University of Nairobi for giving me the opportunity to work the cassava project. The cassava project is committed to food and nutrition security, eradication of poverty in the rural, knowledge sharing and dissemination and finally to upscale cassava production in the targeted regions. I look forward to participating in such interventions and initiatives with the community of Kilifi and Taita taveta counties.

By LIVOI ANTONY who can be reached via

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