Arrowroot farmers in Kenya can now double their yields, thanks to a new high yielding and fast maturing variety from Rwanda that has an average yield of 3 tonnes per acre in just six months.
This is good news to farmers who are currently harvesting an average of 1.68 tonnes of arrowroots in the same size of land in 8 months, hence maturity difference of two months.
The Hybrid variety requires less water compared to traditional variety which is popular in the Kenyan market hence can survive in semi-arid regions.
This new variety is expected to motivate more farmers to grow arrowroot and perhaps help reduce the current huge deficit and popularize the crop among the youth, who view it as at traditional food meant for old people.
However, there is a sudden high demand for the tuber in the country due to increased health consciousness.
Arrow root leaves are rich in vitamins and minerals. They are a good source of thiamin, riboflavin, iron, phosphorus, and zinc, and a very good source of vitamin B6, vitamin C, niacin, potassium, copper, and manganese. Corms are very high in starch, and are a good source of dietary fiber.
Currently, a piece of Eddoe arrowroot is retailing at Sh80 while the Dasheen variety which is a little larger is going for Sh100 in various markets in Nairobi.
Just like Eddoe variety which can do well away from river bed, this hybrid variety has thin small leaves and deep roots to minimize on water use.
It is mainly grown using the Upland arrowroot technology which involves planting the crop in trenches lined with polythene paper and filled with soil manure mixture at a ratio of 2:1.
With this technology, an acre piece of land is capable of holding up to 30,0000 plants, earning a farmer at least Sh3,000,000 in just one season.
This means, arrowroot have high returns than many common crops in Kenya, including maize.
The yield of maize per acre in Kenya stands at 36 bags each weighing 90kg. Currently, a bag goes for Sh2300-3000. Meaning, one is likely to earn Sh108,000.
There are two common arrowroot varieties in Kenya- Eddoe and Dasheen varieties.
One of those who have enjoyed the fruits of this new arrow root is. Nyeri County farmer Mary Njeri. She said the arrowroots are tolerant to low rainfall and the quality of their flesh is high due to the low amount of water and a high concentration of starch.
“The Rwandan arrow roots require rain during transplanting. I have repeatedly planted them at Kieni Sub-county and still harvested tubers weighing more than four kilos in six months,” she said.
Kieni Sub-county is classified as a semi area because it receives less than 500mm of rain per year.
Arrow roosts normally do well in waterlogged areas. Farmers who have grown the tubers away from swampy areas or riverbeds use polythene mulching to contain high moisture levels in the soil for the tubers to do well.
But Njeri said the Rwandan type requires a deep hole, which must be filed with farm yard manure. The relatively deep and superficial roots collect the little water available for use.
“I transplant the mature suckers when they are about one and half feet. After filling the two-feet hole with organic manure, I add mulch. The hole is not filled completely to allow for ample space for mulching,” she said.
At her home in Tetu, still in Nyeri County, the farmer said she has at times harvested dry land arrow roots of more than eight kilogrammes because rainfall is higher than at Kieni.
Njeri sells both tubers according to the size, while the planting materials go cost Sh50.
How to plant
In order to get the best out of arrow roots, a farmer needs 11m by 2m polythene liner, organic fertiliser, well-composted manure, ash and arrowroots corms to start.
Each moisture bed measures 10m by 1.2m. You remove about 0.3m of the top soil, which is then mixed with manure. Five wheelbarrows of manure are required for one moisture bed that costs about Sh5,000 to prepare.
The polythene liner is laid on the floor of the bed and covered with the soil mixed with manure.
A farmer has to apply ash on the soil to regulate acidity as well as control worms that destroy the tubers.
After watering and saturating the bed, make holes spaced 9 by 9 inches. Then plant the arrowroot corms while putting 150ml of organic fertiliser in each hole.
Up to 10 moisture beds can be prepared on a quarter of an acre, with each holding up to 220 arrowroot corms.
With good husbandry, a farmer can harvest tubers weighing up to 2kg per corm, which translates to an average of 400kg per bed in six to nine months, earning Sh20,000.
You have to maintain the moisture by watering the beds once every week and mulching with grass during the dry season. The size of the bed allows for weeding and harvesting without stepping on it.
Mulching helps to control weeds, increases warmth in the bed and prevents moisture loss.
Three months after planting the arrowroot corms, a farmer should add three inches of soil mixed with manure on the beds to get bigger tubers.
PESTS AND DISEASES
Consumers want bigger tubers. Earthening up ensures that we have tubers measuring 4 by 9 inches and weighing 2kg. That is good quality for the local and international market.
As the crop grows, one should scout for pests and diseases like tuber rotting caused by worms that bore into the produce. The worms are kept at bay by use of ash to lower soil acidity, which makes them thrive. Withering of leaves before maturity is an indication of pests and diseases.
Before harvesting, starve the beds of water for two weeks to allow them to harden. This gives room for the tubers to shed much of the water and develop a floury texture when cooked. The moisture bed is watered on the harvesting day to ease uprooting of the tubers.
Using this method allow a farmer to grow arrowroots on dryland. So far, in a place like Imenti over 2,000 smallholder farmers are growing the crop using the technique.
The arrowroot leaves are also sold, dried and milled into powder that is mixed with wheat flour or used as a food flavour.
The leaves are rich in vitamins and minerals such as thiamin, riboflavin, iron, phosphorus, and zinc, vitamin B6, vitamin C, niacin, potassium, copper, and manganese.