Sawa Pius | October 22, 2012
Catherine Amusugut is a successful farmer who discovered that cassava is not just a food crop. It can also be the foundation of a profitable business. She says: “I used to grow just half an acre of cassava [one-fifth of a hectare] for home consumption. And even if I sold some, the money was too little to assist me.”
She has since learned how to process cassava into different products. Now Ms. Amusugut tends more than one hectare of cassava on her farm in the Busia district of western Kenya. She has a thriving business processing and selling cassava products, such as flour and dried chips. Along the way, she was aided by the introduction of new cassava varieties, a cassava chipping machine, and membership in a marketing group.
Cassava is the main food crop in Busia district and some other parts of western Kenya. However, in the early 1990s the crop was hit hard by cassava mosaic disease. The disease threatened the food security of many farmers, prompting the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute to step in. They introduced new cassava varieties resistant to disease and drought.
Farmers increased their yields dramatically with the improved varieties. Then an organization called Farm Concern International taught the farmers how to process and add value to cassava.
The organization introduced farmers to a cassava chipping machine. Harvested cassava spoils rapidly. But once cassava is chipped, sun dried, and packed in bags, it can be stored, sold, or processed further. The chipping machine enables farmers to process cassava quickly. Since cassava processing was introduced to the area, the average cassava acreage per household has risen by sixfold to more than one hectare.
Cassava farmers were organized into groups called commercial villages to market their products more effectively. Each commercial village is made up of 100 to 200 households. Ms. Amusugut belongs to the Tangakona commercial village.
Aloys Obiasi is a cassava farmer who helps Tangakona commercial village market their produce. He explains: “The demand for cassava is so high that at times we have to stock more than 100 tonnes and sell to the highest bidder. The money is paid in cash, and each farmer is paid according to the amount of cassava they produced.” The cassava chips are sold in bulk to commercial industries, for use in consumer products and animal feed.
The farmers have also learned how to earn more by using the right packaging. Ms. Amusugut used to sell tins of cassava for 50 Kenya shillings each (about 60 cents). Now she processes one tin of cassava into three packets of flour. She sells the three packets for 150 Kenya shillings (about $1.80 American).
Many farmers in the area are happy with their proceeds from cassava processing. The new income has solved Ms. Amusugut’s financial problems. She says: “After learning how to grow the good varieties of cassava and how to add value, I am now able to pay school fees for my children who are in high school.”