At 28, many young men are seeking for jobs in urban areas.
But this is not the case for Kevine Ouma Otieno.
The resident of West Gem, in Rangwe, Homa Bay County discovered the gold in cassava.
He is not regretting.
“For many years, I practiced farming of cereals which I inherited from my parents,” he said.
I one time got trained by Self Help Africa, an agricultural organization targeting to build capacities of small scale farmers, and I realized that cassava had many advantagesKevine Otieno
The father of three says his parents were full time farmers, and used the proceeds from the farm to feed and educate him plus his seven other siblings.
And when he was done with his secondary school education in 2014, he took over the mantle, planting sorghum, maize and other cereals.
At this point, he only allocated quarter acre of his three-acre parcel for cassava.
With trainings and more interaction with other farmers, Otieno discovered improved cassava.
“I one time got trained by Self Help Africa, an agricultural organization targeting to build capacities of small scale farmers, and I realized that cassava had many advantages,” he said.
“I started with improved variety in a quarter acre and I have since expanded it to three acres since the cassava demand is now high. I chose grow cassava because it is drought resistant and the cost of production is low,” he added.
Improved cassava variety
Otieno is one of the many farmers in Western Kenya who are fast embracing improved variety of cassava to boost food security.
The new seed varieties developed by Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (Kalro) mostly mature within eight months, as opposed to the traditional ones which take over 12 months to mature.
The seeds were developed by introducing new genes to the existing traditional seeds which then responds to certain characteristics like drought, pests and disease resistance, early maturity and high yielding.
The new seed varieties give farmers Sh50, 000 return per acre compared to maize which gives between Sh12, 500 and Sh25, 000 in the same area.
The improved varieties which does well in Homa Bay county are MH 95, MH96 and Mijera.
SHA is working with 2, 000 farmers in Homa Bay County, with each farmer working on at least one acre parcel of land.
This provides an average production of 12 metric tonnes of cassava.
With the improved variety, Otieno says his pocket is never dry, and he is able to comfortably care for his family.
“Initially 2kg of cassava would go for between Sh30 and Sh40, but currently, we are selling the same at Sh170,” he says.
“To sustain the supply, we stagger the planting to ensure that there is no time of the year without harvest,” he added.
Unlike maize, cassava would greatly help me fight hunger and being drought resistant, I could grow it all seasonsRose Atieno
Rose Atieno from Kasewe village in the neighbouring Ndhiwa is a single mother of five.
She started growing cassava in 2018 through the initiative of an organization called Real Solution.
“The Real Solution introduced the improved variety of cassava which could mature within six to eight months,” she said.
She adds: “Unlike maize, cassava would greatly help me fight hunger and being drought resistant, I could grow it all seasons.”
She says; “I would grow and sell it inform of tubers or chipped. A quarter acre of land can give me between six and ten sacks of chipped cassava when the harvest is good.”
Cassava aggregation centre
Josphine Okolodi Busia is in cassava business.
In 2018, together with friends, they formed Asing’a Cassava Aggregation Centre.
The centre would help the over 52 members to source for market for their produce.
“We got the support from Self Help Africa (SHA) to set up the centre, and apart from helping us source for market for our cassava, it helps us regulate the prices,” she said.
“Through the centre, we have been able to find stable market for our cassava and we sell it at a good price which has empowered us financially. We also get pre and post harvesting training.”
The training has also helped the group on how to incorporate other crops like soya beans and millet in their cassava farming.
“Our main market is True Trade Company, however with the current food insecurity issues, we are able to also sell at the local market at Sh150 per 2kg tin,” she added.
Homa Bay County Crop Officer Caroline Ochieng said the county has bimodal rainfall pattern.
“This means we experience two rainy seasons; long and short rainy seasons,” she said.
However, with the current climate change, she adds that the seasons have become unpredictable.
Cassava can do well in most areas in Homa Bay County since is more resilient and is able to tolerate harsh climateCaroline Ochieng
“We are currently trying to help farmers realize that there are crops that can adapt well with the current pattern climate pattern,” she says.
She says crops like sorghum, cassava and sweet potatoes can do well due to their physiological characteristics.
“Cassava can do well in most areas in Homa Bay County since is more resilient and is able to tolerate harsh climate,” she says.
She says cassava popularity is growing in the area since it has been realized that beside being food security crop, it is also an industrial crop.
“Cassava can be processed into other products like making composite flours,” she says.
“The crop is also a staple food for many people suffering from lifestyle diseases and so there is a growing market for cassava.”
To maximize the value of cassava, most of the farmers are moving into cassava value addition.
Cassava value addition
Rose Ochieng who received value addition training from Self Help Africa is now transferring the knowledge to other farmers.
“We have been trained on how to make chapatis, maandazi and cakes from cassava flour. We are also able to make great recipes from cassava, like making cassava stew and serving it with beans like we do with rice or potatoes,” said.
She says through value addition, farmers are able to maximize profit, as compared to when they sell their produce right from the farm.
We have been able to improve the already existing structures for cassava so that farmers can utilize new technologies and practices for good agricultural management to realise profitsPeter Oluoch
“Cassava flour is more profitable compared to chipped or tubers,” she says.
Peter Oluoch is the head of programs at Self Help Africa (SHA), the organization that has been supporting cassava farmers.
He says through research, the organization has been able to improve cassava farming.
He says the researches revealed lack of commercialization of cassava and cassava seed system.
And with the outcome from the studies, they have been able to engage stakeholders, and improve cassava production in the country.
“We have been able to improve the already existing structures for cassava so that farmers can utilize new technologies and practices for good agricultural management to realise profits,” he said.
According to SHA, currently, value addition takes 100 per cent of the cassava production in the area, apart from from the ones consumed by the farmers in their households.
“We are targeting the average acreage on cassava to increase to 6, 000 acres in the next three years,” added Oluoch.
Increased demand for cassava
Oluoch says cassava is currently on high demands because of starch extraction which is needed by different companies.
“Kenya Breweries is now taking cassava starch from the locals to replace the eight million metric tonnes of starch being imported from other countries and we have engaged them for local supply of starch,” he said.
He said many bakeries are also incorporating cassava flour into the wheat flour for baking chapatis, bread and cakes to help reduce the level of gluten found in the wheat flour.
Self Help Africa has set up a centre at Randung’ in Rangwe Sub County to facilitate value addition.
“We have donated a solar dryer to the center for drying cassava. We are also bringing in an oven for baking cakes,” he said.
In a bid to help standardize products from the value addition centre, Mr Oluoch said the the organization will facilitate the training of farmers by Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) to facilitate certification and standardization of their products.