Armed with simple technologies adapted for family and community use, cassava farmers in Makueni County, Eastern Kenya have cracked open the access code to previously impenetrable markets thereby attracting various categories of buyers from far and wide making up to USD 2.3 million in the process. Having made the transition from subsistence to commercial farmers under the Cassava Commercialization and Processing Programme implemented by Farm Concern International (FCI) with support from Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, the fortunes of the once impoverished peasant farmers are being transformed for the better by streamlined marketing systems and favorable market prices.

Despite its unique qualities and sheer potential, the cassava root is also highly perishable and bulky, becoming unfit for human consumption within 72 hours of harvesting. This presents immense transportation challenges. However, farmers in Makueni County were able to turn around the challenges to work in their favor through the adoption and establishment of Village Based Processing Units (VBPUs) promoted by Farm Concern International to create avenues for value addition and attract even better prices for the commodity. The result being the cumulative food security value of Cassava in Makueni in the first two years of the programme amounted to USD 2.3 million.

These mechanized innovations have taken the burden of time and uncertainty off the farmers’ minds and the immediate impact is intensive and profound with a revolutionary effect on both the production and marketing systems of cassava. By chipping and drying the cassava roots, farmers have been able to extend the shelf life of the root up to 24 months. Therefore, they are no longer in a hurry to dispose of the roots at unfavorable farm gate prices.

Working with a total of 15,750 farmers in Makueni, FCI has been promoting the organization of farmers into Commercial Villages (CVs) to ensure sustained large volumes of cassava are produced for the promotion of food security. Through the marketing and value addition committees in the Commercial Villages, farmers have been able to engage traders for better prices and favorable modes of payment. With increased prosperity from collective action, farmers have been able to transform their surplus incomes into savings through the FCI’s Commercial Village Savings (CVS) Model that encourage farmers to save and utilize their own-savings to reinvest in the planting materials, asset acquisition, labor and financing for school-fees.

With a capacity to process an average of 5,000 to 10,000 kgs of Cassava per day, the VBPUs are saving farmers (especially women) precious time to enable them take up other activities. 

Traditional processing methods involved the laborious action of peeling and cutting the cassava into chunks using kitchen knives. However, the VBPUs are hastening the transition of cassava production and marketing from subsistence level to commercialization effectively transforming the hardy root into a cash crop.

Cassava is a resilient crop, capable of withstanding poor soil and climatic conditions thus making it a reliable food security crop for millions of African households. When produced in mega-volumes, it has excellent potential for conversion to industrial use as starch, glue, animal feed supplement and power ethanol among several other uses. In anticipation of the growing demand for increased production, FCI is engaged in a partnership with the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) to train village-level seed multipliers to meet the expected demand as well as to ensure adherence to stringent quality standards.

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FCI VISION : To have commercialized smallholder communities with increased incomes for improved, stabilized & sustainable livelihoods in Africa and beyond