Disease free Cassava returns to Siaya County

Cassava, once a popular staple food in Siaya County in the 1990’s before being wiped out by mosaic disease may soon reappear on the menu scene courtesy of an initiative mounted by the Department of Agriculture.
This cassava growing revival bid is a joint partnership with the Eastern Africa Agricultural Productivity Project (EAAPP), Kenya Red Cross, World Vision, and Self Help Africa.

The objective of the project is to intensify cultivation and distribution of high quality disease-free cassava crop and seeds further seeking to promote modern storage and preservation methods among farmers.

The latest initiative was launched in March 2012 by the Department of Agriculture, with funding from Eastern Africa Agricultural Productivity Project. The funds provided were used to buy disease-free cassava seeds, training farmers on best cassava growing practices, and for monitoring and evaluation of the project. Before the current project commenced, the Department of Agriculture had been promoting the growing of improved cassava crop under Traditional High Value Crops (THVC) campaign.

For Alego-Usonga Sub-County Department of Agriculture, EAAPP purchased  mosaic resistant cassava varieties which had been developed by Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) at their Kakamega field station. Two identified farmer’s groups were selected for the pilot project and were provided with MH 95/0183 and MM 96/2480 cassava seed varieties. Other improved varieties from KARI being introduced in the area include MM 98/3527, MM 96/9803, and MM 192/0427.
The two community groups; Mbolori Riwruok Ber Women Group and Hawinga/Gangu Focal Area Development Group, were trained by the department officers on the production of disease free cassava crop.
“The groups were advised on planting, harvesting of cassava stems, preservation and storage techniques. They were also required to give a portion of stems back to the Department for distribution to other farmers groups”, said George Oduma, the sub-County Crops Officer. Mbolori was given 20 bags of cassava cuttings which were planted on a 5- acre- piece of land.
“About one year later, the group harvested 70 bags of cuttings out of which they sold 30 bags. They gave back 20 bags to our department, and retained 20 bags to increase the crop space”, said the Crops Officer,

Hawinga Gangu received 30 bags of cassava cuttings to plant on 7.5 acres, out of which 80 bags of seed was harvested. The groups then paid back 20 bags of seed sold 40 bags and also retained 20 bags to expand the crop acreage, added Oduma.

“By the end of 2013, 57.75 acres of improved cassava varieties from 12.5 acres in 2012, had been bulked by 13 farmers groups”, said Eric Ng’eno, the Sub-County Agricultural Officer (SCAO). The target for end of 2014 is to have 130 acres of cassava seed bulked by the groups.

The improved cassava varieties were resistant to diseases and drought, and matured in nine months instead of 15 months. They also yielded twice the capacity of harvest when compared to traditional varieties. The yield per hectare also increased from 10 to 14.5 tonnes, said the SCAO. He said the 13 farmers groups realized 750 bags of cassava cuttings and 220 tonnes of fresh cassava tubers for food, because of improved technology in planting and caring for the crop.

“Planting of mosaic free seed however does not guarantee total protection during growth. Disease control practices must be maintained throughout”, said Dr. Joseph Kamau, the EAAPP, deputy national co-coordinator, during a monitoring tour of the project.
He said cassava is generally safe for human consumption. However, he warned specified guidelines on type, maturity and preparation must be observed.
“There have been isolated cases of people dying after eating cassava, but that is often because of eating unknown types , immature ones or those which needed to be dried first”, he said.
Siaya County’s Red Cross Coordinator, James Akello, said his organization under Siaya Integrated Household Food Security Programme (SIHFOSEP), distributed 2,500 bags of sweet cassava cuttings to 1,230 farmers which were planted on 1,250 acres last year. Another 2,000 bags will be issued by end of this year.
“We have also trained farmers in good farming practices and value addition on cassava products, with our own ‘Cassava Recipes Training Manual’’, said the Coordinator.

Alego-Usonga home economist at the Department of Agriculture, Margaret Were, said the department in collaboration with other organizations has trained farmers to make cakes, chips, pastries, from cassava tubers.
Akello said KRS has budgeted to buy cassava farmers in the area a mini-processor to make value added products, by end of 2014.

The results achieved so far with the improved varieties has triggered demand for cassava seed, said Ng’eno, the SCAO.

He said the number of farmers’ currently planting cassava in Alego-Usonga has increased from 92 to 153 from 2012 to 2013, an increase of 66 %.

Before 2012 cassava occupied 768 Ha, that rose to 887 Ha with the EAAPP input, with the planting of local varieties dropping from 4210 Ha to 4080 Ha, said Ng’eno. He said cassava would once again regain the staple food status if the acreage would rise to at least 5,000 Ha, with the use of value added products adopted by families.

Dr. Kamau of EAAPP appealed to County Governments to support mass production of cassava for industrial purposes. ‘There is high demand for fresh cassava tubers in developed countries to be used for making starch, animal feeds, snacks and medicine”, he said.

The challenges encountered in the revival of cassava according to agricultural officers interviewed by KNA included bureaucracy in procurement of cassava seed, hence delaying the planting period. The low lying areas of the Sub-County were also prone to flooding, that washed away the cassava crop in 2013.



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