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    Highland arrowroot offer alternative income for Central farmers

    A group of farm­ers in Cent­ral Kenya, frus­trated by dwind­ling yields and low re­turns from cof­fee and other cash crops in the area have found solace in high­land ar­row­root, which does well even in dry land, and which is earn­ing them upto Sh100,000 per har­vest.

    The farm­ers from Kiamabara vil­lage of Math­ira con­stitu­ency say the fu­ture is bright as few farm­ers are in­ter­ested in arrow root cul­tiv­a­tion, even as de­mand soars.

    Tra­di­tion­ally, ar­row­roots do well in swampy grounds but these farm­ers have proved oth­er­wise. Alice Wam­bui Macharia who terms her farm as a bar­ren land hav­ing not even fed her fam­ily from it says all is not lost and she hopes the pro­ject will turn around the situ­ation. "I had al­ways been skep­tical that any crop could do well in my farm but hav­ing wit­nessed what has happened in neigh­bour­ing farms, I be­lieve all is not lost," says Wam­bui.

    In her three-acre piece of land where she prac­tices mixed farm­ing, Wam­bui has set aside a po­tion where she has planted the high­land ar­row­root which is now bring­ing life to the dry farm. The pro­ject which is re­l­at­ively within the rich of many farm­ers in Cent­ral Province has given res­id­ents of once again earn­ing in-come from their farms. "Since I ven­tured into arrow roots farm­ing, I can­not re­gret; I am even think­ing of ex­pand­ing the farm. My first har­vest gave me Sh 100, 000," says Wam­bui. The same small por­tion has pro-vided her fam­ily with enough food for con­sump­tion.

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    The farmer says though many res­id­ents are yet to real­ise the po­ten­tial of ar­row­root farm­ing, it would soon over­take the cof­fee farm­ing which has been the main cash crop in Math­ira. She says the crop re­quires min­imal main­ten­ance and calls on other farm­ers to di­ver­sify to with­stand the er­ratic weather. "Many farm­ers con­tinue lan­guish­ing in poverty as they have to wait for long to be paid cof­fee bo­nuses which comes once in a year. I am liv­ing proof that it is not only cof­fee which can do well here," she added.

    Fre­quent vis­its to her farm by envy res­id­ents is clear in­dic­a­tion ar­row-roots farm­ing would be the next most sought after crop by farm­ers in Math­ira. Wam­bui hos­ted farm­ers from two dis­tricts in Math­ira dur­ing an ag­ri­cul­tural field day to edu­cate farm­ers on the im­port­ance of di­ver­si­fy­ing and ad­opt­ing new crops to make money and feed their fam­il­ies.

    However, she says the Gov­ern­ment needs to cre­ate aware­ness on ar­row­roots con­sump­tion say­ing not many Kenyans em­brace the crop as a com­mon del­ic­acy. She also says start­ing up re­quires one to raise enough cap­ital de­pend­ing on the space, a reason she says has seen many farm­ers shy away from the pro­ject.

    She is look­ing for­ward to in­creased in-come and high yields and hopes to use the cash earned to start a dairy farm. "By the end of this year this ven­ture will have ex­pan­ded to a point where I will be able to draw funds to spon­sor dairy cows rear­ing pro­ject something I have also yearned to do," she added. Ar­row­roots are among the tra­di­tional food re­ferred to as orphan crops by the Min­istry of Ag­ri­cul­ture due to their un­der­u­til­isa­tion.

    Ac­cord­ing to Na­tional Ag­ri­cul­ture and Live­stock Ex­ten­sion Pro­gram (Nalep) doc­u­ment, the new high­land ar­row­root pro­duc­tion is tak­ing root in cent­ral re­gion which will provide per­man­ent solu­tion to food short­age. It is also said that folks in urban set-tings are now shift­ing to eat­ing ar­row­roots mostly for break­fast in place of other fatty foods which will in days to come make shape their mar­ket.

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    Nalep pro­gram is about em­power­ment of the com­munit­ies to take charge of their own de­vel­op­ment ini­ti­at­ives. Through a well re­searched and test­ing farm­ing tech­no­lo­gies farm­ers were able to adopt a new tech­no­logy in­tro­duced by Nalep. With the grow­ing de­mand of tra­di­tional food (Orphaned crops) Nalep is en­cour­aging farm­ers to in­crease pro­duc­tion of these crops be­cause they are drought, dis­ease and pest res­ist­ant.

    Under Nalep's guid­ance, the focal area known as Git­umbi was di­vided into four blocks and in one. of the blocks, a Com­mon In­terest Croup (CC) called lrati B in Kigumo, Mur­ang’a .County, con­sist­ing of 15 mem­bers can at­test to the pro­ductiv­ity of the high­land Ar­row-root pro­duc­tion tech­no­logy.

    Mama Lucy Muthoni, a local farmer in the area, took up the new tech­no­logy in 2009 when Nalep trained the local farm­ers on how to grow food crops and en­sure food se­cur­ity. Ar­row­roots are mainly grown in swampy areas and since Kigumo area in not swampy, mem­bers were taught on how to crate their own swampy spots for plant­ing ar­row­roots.

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