Year in, year out the Kenyan government declares hunger a national disaster. This is in reaction to frequent droughts that ravage most parts of the country, including my home area. I was born and bred in the arid Murang’a South. Growing up, I was used to seeing families queue for food rations from the government and donors.
Like anywhere else in Kenya, the staples predominantly grown in the area have been maize and beans –crops which have high water requirements. When rains are not enough, crops fail resulting to acute food shortages. Residents have often relied on relief food for survival. The raging global climate change has even made famines more frequent.
In 2008/09, Kenya faced one of the worst droughts in years. Then I was aged 17 years and fresh from high school. From my high school agricultural studies and other agricultural content, I had come to learn of a wonderfully drought tolerant crop – Improved Cassava.
Apart from requiring minimal moisture to flourish, the improved cassava varieties also successfully grow in marginal soils where other crops would not perform well. This ability to grow in poor soils and under dry conditions makes cassava a much better answer to food insecurity than maize and beans. Unlike other crops, cassava is cost-effective as it doesn’t require fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides.
Improved Cassava tubers are starch-filled. They are low in fats and free from gluten. Cassava leaves are a good source of dietary proteins and vitamins. They are also high in minerals. This makes cassava suitable for addressing nutritional deficiencies.
Equipped with this knowledge, I felt an urgent need for my contribution towards alleviating food insecurity in my community. In 2009, I led formation of a community initiative – Focus on Cassava- to promote cassava as an alternative food, fodder and cash crop. We propagate improved varieties of cassava that are faster-maturing and more resistant to cassava diseases. We operate a 6-acre demonstration farm which is also used to breed cassava planting materials. We have so far distributed 48 tonnes of cassava cuttings to 12,750 farmers to grow in own farms.
We have established a cottage factory for milling cassava. After harvesting cassava, done all year round, farmers take the tubers to the factory. They are dried and ground into flour for cooking a variety of meals. We also process organic livestock feeds from cassava to cushion farmers from the ever costly commercial feeds.
SDG 2 targets to end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture by 2030. Our initiative has made a significant and sustainable impact in Murang’a South and beyond. The initiative has kept hunger at bay for the 7th year in a row and improved household income through sale of surplus cassava.
Founder and Team Leader,
Focus on Cassava.