The market demand for the roots and tubers crops including cassava and sweet potatoes is expected to continue growing.

Dr Oscar Magenya, the Agriculture Research secretary at the Ministry of Agriculture said this is driven partly by rapid urbanisation and changing dietary habits.

“In many of our towns and cities, the roots and tubers have made a steady transition from the perception as a low-income food option, a few decades ago, to becoming part of the mainstream dietary choices even for the upper and the growing middle class,” he said.

Magenya spoke at the 19th International Triennial symposium of the International Society for Tropical Root Crops on Monday.

He however said production of main root crops such as cassava, sweet potato, coco yam and yams remains below potential.

“The transition of the status of these crops presents a challenge to policymakers, researchers, and other value chain actors. They need to strengthen the roots and tubers value chains in order to increase their competitiveness in our agri-food systems,” Magenya said.

Dr Canisius Kanangire, the executive director at African Agricultural Technology Foundation said in recent times, root crops have gained further attention for their potential to act as a buffer against the ravages of climate change.

“In addition, root crops represent an untapped potential in agro-processing and industry in Sub-Saharan Africa,” he said.

Roots and tuber crops are sources of income for our farmers and are climate resilient.

Above all, they provide carbohydrates, minerals, vitamins, and raw materials for industrial food processing and blending.

Data from KALRO indicates that cassava, potato and sweet potato are cultivated in about 150,734.3 acres, 45,714.5 acres and 14,826.3 acres respectively.

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The estimated per capita consumption of cassava, potato, and sweet potato is 20kgs, 33kgs and 18kgs, respectively.

Based on the current population of 54 million people, the country’s requirement is 1.1 million MT, 1.8 million MT, and one million MT respectively, while the annual production is estimated as 0.82 million MT, 1.7 million MT and 0.81 million MT respectively.

Lusike Wasilwa, the director of Crops Research Systems-Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation said there is a national demand deficit for cassava, potato and sweet potato of 0.25 million MT, 0.08 million MT and 0.16 million MT respectively.

“However, if the utilisation is expanded; such as food processing, animal feed as well flour blending, the deficit would be higher,” she said.

KALRO in collaboration with partners have developed and released over 19 varieties of cassava including KMEs, Tajirika, Karembo, and Karibuni.

Also, more than 50 potato varieties of Unica, Shangi, Sherekea, and Asante, and more than 24 sweet potato varieties of Kenspots, SPKs, Kemb10, Mugande, Vitaa and Kabonde.

“However, arrow roots and yam production is catching up and requires increased research interventions to strengthen productivity,” Wasilwa said.

Head of programmes Self Help Africa Peter Aluoch said the demand for cassava is on the rise due to the low yields in maize.

He said maize production is continuously declining and the supply from imports is no longer sustainable and it is also declining.

“The consumption of cassava is also increasing due to the need to replace wheat consumption. People are starting to become more health conscious, they do not want to consume more wheat with gluten and they need a replacement,” Aluoch said.

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“Cassava comes in handy because it is gluten free and you can use flour to bake mandazi or chapati.”

Gluten is a protein naturally found in some grains including wheat, barley, and rye. It acts like a binder, holding food together and adding a stretchy quality, without gluten, the dough would rip easily.

by AGATHA NGOTHO || Science Writer

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