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    Tobacco farmers in Kenya are likely to earn up to Sh800 if they import their yield China, India, Argentina, Chile or Taiwan. This will see farmers earn up to 4 times the current rate in Kenya where a British American Tobacco ( BAT) is paid Sh220 per kilo of grade A tobacco.

    Although China is the leading tobacco producer in the world with 2.4 million tonnes which represents a third of the global production, most of it is processed into cigarettes to meet the huge domestic appetite. The FAO report shows that at least 83billon packets of 20 cigarettes are smoked per year, triggering huge demand for tobacco leaves.

    China is buying a kilo of grade A cured tobacco at $8.83 or Sh891 at the current currency exchange rate in Kenya. Other countries that are offering food prices includes India which is currently buying a kilo of tobacco from farmers at $7.62 or Sh769, Argentina and Chile at $7.30 or Sh737 while Taiwan is paying tobacco farmers $7.12 or Sh720.

    With cured tobacco yield estimated at 7 tonnes per acre n Kenya, it means that a farmer is likely to earn up to Sh6.2 million per acre per season if he export his yield to China for instance. The same yield is likely to earn a farmer Sh1.54 million if he sell it locally.

    This comes at a time when tobacco farmers in the country in Migori County which produces up to 71 percent of the country’s 22000 tonnes of tobacco are contemplating abandoning the crop, citing poor prices from cigarette manufacturers in the country.

    Early this year, over 5000 contacted tobacco farmers in the country faulted BAT’s pricing model which is based on leave quality, terming it oppressive.  Tobacco is divided into grades A,B and C. Farmers are paid Sh50 per kilo of the lowest grade.

    Tobacco farmers through the Kenya Tobacco Farmers Association (Ketofa) have been demanding for at least Sh300 per kilogramme for the highest grade leaf since 2014. According to the Association’s Chief Executive Officer, Joseph Wanguhu, and farming is a time and resource consuming venture that demands proper remuneration.

    The average cost of production of a kilo of tobacco is estimated at $2.68 or Sh271. This means, a tobacco farmer in Kenya is incurring a loss of at least Sh70 per kilo, considering that the highest quality is paid at Sh220 per kilo

     

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    Small-scale farmers who have been producing cassava for domestic consumption can sell the crop to earn money following the opening of Kiara Agro Limited factory in Machakos County. The factory processes at least 15 tonnes of cassava to extract starch from tuber for re-packaging and selling to local consumers. 

    Kiara Agro Ltd Managing Director Pinal Patel says the factory is ready to help farmers in producing high quality cassava to meet its demand while providing a source of revenue to the families. Soil can be tested and best yielding breeds recommended, as one of the ways of helping the farmers. 

    “The cassava tubers must be of good quality to fetch well. Quality tubers yield high starch content, which is good for the company and the farmer. They have less fibre content and more starch, which is our main target product,” he says.

    Quality tubers

    But the director insists that the cassava must meet the set criteria for the company to accept produce from suppliers. A mature tuber must be at least one or one and half feet long, and two to three inches in thickness. This would ensure maximum productivity. 

    “For every five kilos of the tubers we can extract a maximum of one kilo of starch. This is achievable if a farmer has the right variety and proper management practices,” he said. 

    Value addition 

    Just like sweet and Irish potatoes, farmers are selling cassava in form of crisps. Much of the processing cassava into crisps is done locally, with more others doing it on road sides and open spaces, posing multiple health risks. 

    Patel said the starch minting from the cassava is an opportunity for farmers to enjoy the tuber in its finest powder form, when the less useful materials like fibre have been eliminated. “Besides hygiene, processing increases the shelf-life of the cassava. 

    No produce would go to waste after processing, for it will be consumed when the supply from farms is low. This would ensure a constant supply to avid consumers,” he said.

    Cassava is money 

    Cassava tolerates relatively poor soils and drought. This makes it a leading staple food for more than 300 million Africans of drier regions. Food and Agricultural Organisation says Africa produced 140 million metric tonnes of cassava against 65 million metric tonnes of maize in 2011. 

    Much of this cassava is more of a food than cash crop. But emergence of processing industry would turn the tuber into a commercial crop for most small-scale farmers in drier and infertile soil regions where tea, coffee and other crops may not do well. 

    They will earn between Sh4 and Sh6 per kilo, which he says is way above the production cost of about Sh1.30 per kilo of cassava. The director said their research had shown the local market is in demand of processed cassava, making this venture a lucrative investment. 

    He said the company looks forward to expanding to process more cassava.

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