Arrowroot farming proves a gold mine to Kenyan farmers

Arrowroot farming proves a gold mine to Kenyan farmers

In Kenya, arrowroot is one of the most productive and a high-value crop that fetches good money for farmers. “I can say it is an extremely viable enterprise. The crop’s monetary value just like its nutritional contents keeps perennially high. Its cultivation provides potential to local farmers with best opportunities to tap into,” says Amos Amenya, an agronomist attached to Lake Basin Development Authority.

According to the agronomist, arrowroots have plenty of market. “The demand is very high in major towns especially Nairobi where four arrowroots retail at Ksh. 100. Suppose you harvest 100 roots weekly? Food for thought as we plan to invest in this lucrative escapade” he attempts to illustrate.

Jacqueline Okanda, famous as Jacky decided to try her hand in farming as a supplementary income generator besides her salary at her rural home in Sinyolo village, Kisumu County in 2016. Little did she know that it will change her for-tune in a big way.

“I have a farm which has a swampy portion. While I was figuring of what crop to grow, arrowroots came to my mind because they require water for better growth. I planted the tubers and after about seven months, they were ready for harvest. I harvested the first batch, I began to sell the produce locally and the market was promising,” says Okanda.

Jacky was motivated by good returns from the initial harvest. The teacher by profession capitalised on the crop’s via-bility in the area with the objective of generating direct income. She consequently scaled up the production in the subsequent seasons.

“I sell a stem of arrowroots weighing one kilogram at Ksh 150 depending on the market trend. Sometimes I sell them in pieces at an average of Ksh70 to Sh100 each for 4 pieces. I find ready market locally. Every planting season I get an av-erage of Ksh 40,000 but I still anticipate that the income could go up in future particularly with my plans to increase the acreage under production.

To sustain her sale, she has established a network with hotels in Kisumu town, who regularly place orders for the pro-duce. She has mastered how to plant the crop systematically in paddocks that gives sustainable yields.

In the neighbouring Vihiga County, veteran educationist and publisher David Muruli has set up a jungle of arrowroots to supplement his pension. On his 26-acre farm christened Bunyore Riverside Agricultural Development (Brad), is green with thousands of blossoming arrowroots. “I want to create an agribusiness empire whose flagship produce is the arrowroots which I have already set aside 10 acres for. I looked around Nairobi and realized many residents yearn for food that are considered traditional but have become rare and consequently expensive as years go by,” he says.

He says arrowroot farming has not been taken seriously in Vihiga and other neighbouring counties. It is a noble ven-ture farmers should try out. His passion for arrowroot farming led him to Tanzania from where he brought giant variety of the arrowroot. This, he says, supplements the crop he planted from locally available indigenous variety.

“Arrowroots are not susceptible to serious pest attacks, apart from moles and ants which are easy to control. The crop takes up to nine months to mature. But if one wants a much higher starch content, the best time to harvest is after the plant is one year old,” he says. As it is the norm of Kenyans to have a cup of tea in the morning complemented by well-cooked Nduma (local name for arrowroots), Muruli knows he has a ready market for his crop. He expects an initial harvest of 10 tonnes and is targeting the Nairobi market.

He is sure of a bumper pay once his arrowroots are ready for harvest with a single arrowroot selling at an average of KSh100 a kilo. He says Nduma has given him a perfect beginning for a life in retirement away from the fast paced bus-tle of the city.

From Western to central Kenya Hortfresh Journal met Mary Njeri in Nyeri County who is very happy that today arrow-root farmers can cut growing period by two months by planting a high yielding and quick maturing variety from Rwan-da, which is also drought tolerant.

“Traditional Kenyan varieties mature in eight month after transplanting but the dryland arrowroots from Rwanda only takes six months. The variety is tolerant to low rainfall and the quality of their flesh is high due to the low amount of water and a high contents of starch. I have repeatedly planted them at Kieni since the Sub-county is classified as a semi arid area because it receives less than 500mm of rain per year and I still harvest tubers weighing more than four kilos each in six months,” says Njeri.

The arrowroots in Kieni do well in waterlogged areas allowing farmers to grow the tubers away from swampy areas or riverbeds, but to use polythene mulching to contain high moisture levels for the tubers to do well. The Rwandese type according to Njeri just require a deep hole, which must be filed with farm yard manure. The relatively deep and super-ficial roots collect the little water available for use.

When the suckers mature she transplant when they are about one and half feet and after filling the two-feet hole with organic manure, she adds mulch. The hole is not filled completely to allow for ample space for mulching. She says at times she harvests dryland arrowroots of more than eight kilogrammes each at her home in Tetu, still in Nyeri County, because rainfall is higher than in Kieni.

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