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    Arrowroot farming 1

    By George Munene

    When considering lucrative agribusiness ventures to get into, arrowroot farming will probably hardly get a mention from most people. For Elisha Mukoya, a Mumias mixed farmer who also grows more conventional crops such as maize, onions, tomatoes, and sugarcane in arrowroots, popularly known as ndoma, he's found his main moneymaker: “Arrowroots are cheap to grow with the cultivation of an acre requiring an initial capital of Sh90,00-60,000 with a return of Sh260,000 in six to seven months.” 

    Simply known by his moniker “Arrowroots farmer” in farming circles, Elisha started out growing arrowroots on a quarter an acre some two and a half years. He currently farms six acres of the tuber crop. He also supplies hundreds of farmers across the country with its growing stems, carving a niche for himself amongst the foremost authorities on arrowroot farming in Kenya.

    Varieties 

    “Picking uniform and an appropriate variety of arrowroots to grow for your region will determine the success of your venture months later,” Elisha says. All cultivars planted on the same plot of land should be of the same variety-- this ensures the entire crop is harvestable at the same time. 

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    Poorly sourced stem cuttings can be disease vectors while badly prepared suckers, ie those whose tubers and leaves are not precisely cut are more susceptible to disease attacks and rotting as well as being ineffectual propagation material.  

    The main arrowroots grown in Kenya are Dasheen, Eddoe, and Hybrid varieties, each with their particular pros and cons.

    Mukoya sorely grows dasheen arrowroots. He opted for the variety given it matures in seven months; the shortest time taken by all arrowroots. Dasheens are favored by large-scale buyers for their ideal size with each tuber weighing about half a kilogram.  Being that it grows in upland regions, it requires reasonable irrigation to thrive, meaning it is rarely affected by rot which is the main hazard for most arrowroot farmers. Dasheen also grows up to six times more suckers than the Eddo and Hybrid varieties making its propagation easier for farmers. It is characterised by dark green leaves and stems that grow up to 75cm tall. It is whitish when cut at its roots with fading spots and is powdery when cooked. 

    Eddoe arrowroots grow in wet regions, weigh on average one kilogram and take nine to eleven months to reach maturity. They have yellowish/orange stems that grow up to one meter tall and their tubers are blue/white or a mix of both with clear spots.  Given their growing conditions they are more easily susceptible to rotting. 

    Hybrid arrowroots are jumbo-sized weighing up to two kilos per tuber. To achieve this, however, their period to maturity is 15-16 months. They have distinctly tall stems that grow up to two meters.

    Getting started 

    Arrowroots should be spaced one foot between each set of two stems and two and a half feet between each line. Close spacing hinders the fattening of tubers leading to premature growth--tubers will need to be harvested in four to five months-- before they are fully developed.

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    Planting and harvesting seasons should be synchronised to rain patterns. Plantlets are sown at the onset of rains, i.e., March/April to be harvested during the drier August to September months. 

    Elisha utilises Mumias’ favorable climate to have two growing seasons. Using stems, rather than suckers, which mature faster (five to six months) as the planting material over the November and December short rains    

    Borrowing from experience he recommends farmers use cow or goat dung for manuring’ this he applies a handful of per hole during planting. “Chicken or pig manure I have found to be more appropriate for growing vegetables, but when applied to arrowroots there is poor bulking of tubers and returns are poor,” he points out. 

    Arrowroots need sufficient watering and fertile soils. About 30 percent of potential yields are lost if the irrigation levels are insufficient. However, contrary to popular belief, Elisha says farmers should not grow arrowroots on stagnant water as this often rots tubers.

    Starter farmers will need to source for planting stems, an acre requires about 12,000 stems which will set one back about Sh60,000. Mukoya delivers stems to farmers across the country at five shillings a stem.

    Markets 

    Marketability is determined by the quality of your arrowroots; this is dictated by proper feeding and management. For largescale farmers, dasheen arrowroots are preferable for being medium-sized which is the tuber size most buyers demand.

    Formerly Elisha dealt with consumers directly but has had to rely on brokers as his quantities of arrowroots have increased. He is currently selling a 110-kilogram sack of arrowroots for Sh7500.

    The challenge for most small-scale farmers is it is uneconomical to source for markets given they can only deliver small quantities at a time.

    Management 

    Proper feeding is ultimately what will determine the quality of your arrowroots. Topdressing should be done between the second and third months after planting. This is done by applying NPK inorganic fertiliser. A 50-kilogram bag adequately caters to one acre.

    To have your arrowroots flourishing and eventually have sizable tubers you will need to stick to a strict schedule. Weeding will need to be done at least four times before harvest. As arrowroots grow below ground Elisha warns farmers not to wait until weeds are visible or the planted stem sprouts above ground to weed them out. While weeding, earthing up should be practiced, burying the growing stem helps spur their growth. Consistent weeding also helps loosen the soil, freeing the tuber and allowing it to enlarge. Compacted soils hinder expansion meaning the plant will focus on maturing, this leads to poorly filled arrowroot tubers. It is as well important to check on the hygiene of your farm.

    Arrowroot

    “It is important that arrowroots are given time to fully mature; early harvesting gives soggy or hard tubers that are impossible to cook,” Mukoya advises. The final two months are especially important in this regard allowing the tubers to harden. The arrowroots should not be watered during this time as this could cause rotting, rather they should be left to bake in the biting sun and stiffen up.

    Elisha Mukoya:0708900187

     

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    tractor tilling a land

    By George Munene

    The rise in fuel prices is causing an increase in the cost of food production for farmers. This is expressed in a 25 per cent increase in the cost of running water pumps for crop irrigation and a 30 per cent rise in ploughing costs.       

    “Farming in Kenya is an enterprise already fraught with risk as well as being expensive. Being that every coin saved is important the ever-rising fuel prices are making it increasingly harder to earn a profit. I used to irrigate a quarter an acre of land with about Sh400 overnight the same plot of land cost almost Sh100 more to water,” says Karen Kendi, a vegetable farmer in Meru.

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    With Mining and Petroleum CS John Munyes warning Kenyans to expect another scheduled fuel increase this month, she struggles to see how she can still keep her overheads low enough to eke a profit. “Fuels costs accounted for half of my production costs, she says. “There is no relief offered to farmers; fertilizer and pesticide costs are also high while the middlemen who buy my produce do not factor in the increased cost of production on the farmer’s end.” She irrigates her crop of capsicums and tomatoes with water pumped from the nearby Kathita River.

    Being well into the rainy season, Karen hopes that rains are consistent enough, meaning less need to pump in water to her farm.

    Bernard Kibet, a maize farmer in Trans Nzoia County, counts himself lucky for having ploughed and sowed his seven acres of land in mid-March. This was just early enough to avoid the 30 percent hike in ploughing cost; from Sh2,300 to Sh3,000 an acre.

    Related News: Hand-pushed multipurpose tractor saves farmers Sh1000 tillage costs

    The curbs on movement and working hours have meant economic activity has been depressed this means people have less expendable income. Though agricultural produce is an everyday essential, Kenyans are shopping for the bare minimum to fill their kitchen pantries. Sadly, with less market demand, this dictates a fall in the price of foodstuff even as the cost of production continues to rise. 

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    amagoh 8

    By George Munene

    Bernard Wagitu, the founder of Amagoh Dorpers, hopes to elevate dorper farming across East Africa by providing the best dorper genetics that will serve to enhance both the growth levels and carcass quality of sheep for farmers in the region at an affordable price. 

    “Since getting sheep with better genetics from South Africa in 2016 we have been complemented by the marked improvements in the texture and taste of our mutton from our customers. We have also used the imported flock to improve the local dorper variety,” Wagitu says. This is expressed in faster growth rates of their progeny and their ability to gather weight much quicker than the local sheep.       

    The dorper is the most in-demand sheep amongst Kenyan farmers thanks to its being adaptable to tough climatic conditions, disease resistance, its fast maturity and ability to gather weight quickly which all mean speedy and easier returns for farmers— a mature ram can weigh between 80kg and 114 kg with the ewes weighing 57kg to 80 kg.

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    What sets Amagoh apart is Wagitu’s constant improvement of his stud. This he has done by importing South African dorper sheep. SA being the original home of the breed the country has been able to rear a more superior version of dorper to the one that is locally available. This has elevated the quality of his flock setting him apart from the rest of the competition.

    Having started with just five sheep in 2010 the farm now houses 450 ewes. Amagoh Dorpers Stud is based in Machakos County and is registered under the Dorper Sheep Breeders Society of Kenya Breeding Sires as well as shaving their Breeding ewes and rams registered with the Kenya Stud Book.

    For beginner farmers, Bernard recommends that they start out with one ram and 10 ewes, this he says will give them a manageable learning curve. For such farmers he advices a starter stock of local and SA dorper crosses. Such rams cost Sh25000 while ewes cost Sh15000. Farmers with rearing experience can purchase progenies of pure South African dopers which cost Sh70,000 for a ram that is below a year old and 100,000 for one that is older than a year.  

    Related News: Access to information helps Dorper sheep farmer avert 60 per cent loss in sales

    Dorper sheep have a good mothering ability and exhibit a long breeding season. They have good adaptability and are non-selective grazers- making maximum use of available pastures. "When breeding ewes are well managed through proper feeding, disease and parasite control, they will bear twinning from the third lambing. They should be properly flushed- fed well be-fore mating to increase the chances of twinning," observes Cleopas Wahome, a livestock production officer with Naivasha Sheep and Goat Station, a government farm.

    Amagoh Dorpers: +(254)732 849 400

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