Over 10,000 farmers in Busia have increased cultivation of traditionally neglected cassava after chipping machines introduced in the area opened up market opportunities to a crop that still remains untapped even as it supplies over 200 million people in Africa.
The machines allow for quicker processing of raw cassava, which is chipped and dried ready for sale within days.
Cassava perishes fast, usually 72 hours after it has been removed from the soil, becoming unfit for for human and livestock consumption. Farmers who have traditionally cultivated the crop have been left with losses as poor market has meant that they cant sell all of the produce. A surplus means loss. This has forced them to limit production leaving the crop to its nondescript backyard subsistence crop, even as farmers from other developing countries like India continue to mint millions from value addition of the crop.
Now the chipping machines, that have been facilitated by among others Farm Concern International and AGRA, are changing the face of cassava production in Kenya and the rest of East Africa.
The raw cassava is first peeled, washed and placed on special polythene bags called tarpaulin,ready to be chipped. There are three types on chipping machines in Busia, motorised, electric and manual.The motorised one has a crushing capacity of between 10 and 15 tonnes per day while the electric one can can crush between one and five tons per day. “You just switch on, bring the cassava, you feed in one by one because of the nozzle – the nozzle is small, you cannot put any more. Because if you put in much it can get stuck, and that blade will not be able to operate. After it has been crushed, you take it to a drying tarpaulin,”said Mate Ouma one of the farmers who has also been trained to operate the machines.
The cassava are then dried for three days and are then ready for sale. The dry cassava chips are packed in bags of 100 kilograms, which are placed off the floor to avoid contact with moisture as they await the buyers. Leading buyers include Kirinyaga Millers, Kenya Energy Alliance, and Familiar Food Industries.
The success of the machines has changed deeply entrenched perceptions of the crop as a poor man's crop with acreage under cultivation jumping to an impressive 40 percent in the last two years. “I had uprooted all my cassava after poor markets, but this new way of selling it which has attracted buyers from all over Kenya has encouraged me to cultivate more. Three quarter of my one acre farm is now under cassava,”said Cecilia Namilanda a farmer in the area.