Cassava Farming In Kenya: Cassava (Manihot esculenta Crantz) is the second most important root crop after Irish potato grown throughout Kenya. It is a drought-tolerant crop providing a basic diet for most rural households to address food insecurity and mitigate poverty. Production of cassava in Kenya is mostly concentrated in a few agricultural ecological zones. These include; Western Kenya, Coast and Eastern zones of the country. In these regions, cassava accounts for a greater percentage of the total cassava production in the country.

cassava farming in kenya

Cassava Farming In Kenya

Kenya can produce more than 2 million metric tonnes of cassava per year even though the production of this crop is predominantly on smallholder basis by farmers who focus on producing enough to feed their households. Notably, these farmers are marginalized and the potential of the marginal areas in cassava production still remain untapped. Furthermore, participation in marketing of cassava is confined to local villages and nearby markets with virtually no value addition.

According to MOA (2007), a National Policy on cassava industry was developed in order to address issues related to production, marketing and regulation of the cassava industry at large in Kenya. In addition, efforts were made toward the development of cassava industry in the country to enhance cassava commercialization so as to match the dynamic changes in cassava industry and the world at large.

The government believed that with appropriate policies, cassava could be easily transformed from “a poor man‟s food” mainly grown for consumption into a commercial commodity for sustainable food security, income generation and poverty mitigation through enhanced production, utilization, marketing and trading of cassava and its value added products.

According to FAO (2004), expanding markets for cassava products may turn the crop into a cash crop for smallholder farmers, while maintaining food security, and thus become a driver for rural change in Africa.

Despite the effort to increase production of cassava in Kenya through usage of resources under various interventions, the tuber crop has not evolved from subsistence to a commercial crop

Overview on Cassava

Cassava is a tropical root crop, originally from Amazonia, that provides the staple food of an estimated 800 million people worldwide. Grown almost exclusively by low-income, smallholder farmers, it is one of the few staple crops that can be produced efficiently on a small scale, without the need for mechanization or purchased inputs, and in marginal areas with poor soils and unpredictable rainfall.

Since 2000, the world’s annual cassava production has increased by an estimated 100 million tonnes, driven in Asia by demand for dried cassava and starch for use in livestock feed and industrial applications, and in Africa by expanding urban markets for cassava food products.

There is great potential for further production increases – under optimal conditions, cassava yields can reach 80 tonnes per hectare, compared to the current world average yield of just 12.8 tonnes.
Booming demand offers millions of cassava growers in tropical countries the opportunity to intensify production, earn higher incomes and boost the food supply where it is most needed. But how smallholder cassava growers choose to improve productivity should be of major concern to policymakers.

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Selection of Appropriate Cassava Variety in Kenya

The selection of the right variety for your agro-ecological zone is critical for the success of any crop. Farmers have the habit of borrowing seeds from each other after seeing how a particular crop flourishes in a farm one could have visited for training or other activities especially if they are in different regions. One should always compare the weather patterns of the two regions to estimate whether the said crop will be successful in your own area. However, should you not have that information, your local extension officer can avail it including varieties best-suited for your area.

In Kenya, the following cassava varieties have been made available through Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (Kalro) and Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (Kephis).

cassava

Propagation and Planting

Cassava is grown from stem cuttings of mature healthy plants between 12 and 18 months old. The stem cuttings can be sourced from credible sources like Kalro centres or from commercial seedling/ planting material providers or from successful cassava farmers near you. When sourcing for planting material, make sure the source has clean-disease and pest-free stem cuttings.

The stem cuttings should be the length of one ruler (30 cm) and 2 cm to 2.5 cm thick (slightly bigger than a candle). It should also have five to eight nodes and be selected from the centre of the stem. The planting method that works best is vertical planting especially in dry areas with low soil moisture and lots of heat from the sun. In such areas, the bigger part of the stem cutting should be buried in the soil to encourage deep root formation.

Cassava-spacing depends on the farming system adopted: such as mono-crop or intercrop. Always ensure that you plant the stem cuttings as soon as you can. Do not store them out for too long as it reduces their viability. If forced to store them, avoid direct sunlight, hot and cold winds. Store them with the buds facing upwards and avoid too much movement that causes bruises on the stem cuttings.

Weeding of Cassava Farm

An ancient Chinese philosopher once said, “Plan for what is difficult while it is easy, do what is great while it is small.”

With this quote in mind;

  • A thorough land preparation is a key to reduced weeding activity.
  • Plant cassava cuttings early enough before weeds start emerging.
  • Cassava requires approximately 3 months of weed-free condition for optimum yield. Use a contact and/or pre-emergent herbicide to control weeds for the first three months of growth.
  • Apply post-emergence herbicides as soon as weeds begin to emerge after the pre-emergence herbicide treatment.
  • Weed with hoes or adapted cutlasses 3 or more times depending on the type of weed.
  • On a large scale, use tractor operated weeders.
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To weed, apply post-emergence herbicides to control weeds immediately they are spotted on your cassava farm. Pre-emergence herbicides should have been applied before planting to control weeds.

For small-scale farms, use hoes or cutlasses to clear out weeds and tractor operated weeders for larger farms.

Note that, Land preparation needs to be done properly to control the weeds at least for the first 3 months to achieve optimum yield.

cassava farming in kenya

Husbandry (Soils, water management, weeds, pests and disease control)

Cassava is a fairly low maintenance crop in terms of crop husbandry practices like crop nutrition and one can produce cassava with zero input. However, for optimal production, it is best that farmers practice soil nutrition, water management, weed, pests and disease control practices that aid the production of the crop. The main cassava diseases in Africa are the African cassava mosaic disease (ACMD) and cassava brown streak disease (CBSD). The best way of controlling the diseases is prevention through sourcing clean disease tolerant/ resistant planting material.

Once it affects your farm, remove the affected plants and burn them. Also, control pests that act as carriers/vectors of said diseases. Intercropping or rotating cassava with other crops also helps control diseases and pests as well.

Always keep your cassava farm weed-free. One can achieve this through mulching which will in turn control loss of soil moisture and soil erosion. It is also advised that during land preparation, add well-decomposed farmyard manure and wood ash to supplement other micronutrients in the soil.

Fertilization of Cassava Plantation

The type and quantity of fertilizer to use are based on the variety and nature of the soil.

Fertilizers should be applied 8 weeks after planting and done 6 cm in width and 10cm from the stems or leaves of the cassava plant.

Also, it is advisable to conduct a soil test to determine the type of fertilizer to apply.

Apply fertilizer 4-8 weeks after planting in the ratio determined from the soil test and 16 weeks after planting. You may not need to fertilize the farmland immediately after clearing vegetation.

If you have grown cassava on the land for several years in succession or in a rotation, the soil nutrients deplete. Therefore, fertilizer application becomes necessary.

Most farmers use different kinds of organic manures, such as cattle dung or chicken droppings to improve soil fertility. Remains of leguminous plants, incorporated into the ground, also improve soil nutrients.

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To further enhance the growth and overall yield of your farm, you will need to apply fertilizers. Use a good fertilizer to improve soil nutrient.

Test a sample of your soil to determine the fertilizer types and application rates that will be suitable for your farmland.

A fertilizer that is rich in potassium salt, favors the formation of starch in cassava. Nitrogen and phosphorus, on the other hand, are essential for growth.

If the soil contains large quantities of absorbed nitrogen, the result will be like the proverbial fig tree in the Holy Bible that Jesus Christ saw on his way to Jericho, “having a heavy development of vegetative growth without a corresponding increase in root production.”

Apply the first dose of NPK fertilizer, in the ratio as determined by the soil test, 4-8 weeks after planting.

Place fertilizers 15cm to 45cm from the base of the stem in drill holes – 10cm to 15cm deep. Placement of fertilizers in drill holes reduces fertilizer loss through runoff water.

A second dose of Fertilization of plants 16 weeks after planting significantly increases the yield of roots and enhances tuber bulking.

For effective absorption of fertilizer nutrients into the soil, do not apply fertilizer when the soil is dry.

Fertilizers can bought online via Kenya’s online Agrovet.

Harvesting

If left for too long, cassava tubers become woody and unsuitable for human consumption. Farmers, therefore, need to harvest the crop as soon as it reaches maturity as guided by the variety chosen. The harvesting plans should be pegged on the purpose of the crop as the tubers do not keep well for long. It takes a maximum of three days for them to go bad. When harvesting, farmers should consider access to the market or other value addition activities available. For mass markets one can harvest all the crops at once through uprooting whereas for piecemeal farmers should harvest in portions.

Value addition activities that help cassava last longer include, drying the tubers and converting them to flour or dry cassava cuts, making cassava chips, ethanol or starch. Value-addition extends the storage life of the tuber to give farmers time to source for better markets and better prices.

 

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