A community-based organisation (CBO) in Yatta, in Kenya's Lower Eastern, has defied the odd belief that if one has not eaten ugali, made from maize, then he has not eaten food. The CBO, known as Yatta Farmers and Processing, Matuu Bidii Group, is currently concentrating on planting drought resistant crops, while educating people in the area that maize is food but other drought resistant crops are also food and need to be embraced, as part of climate change adaptation, in order to build more resilient and food secure communities.
The Group was among the many beneficiaries of cassava cuttings from Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS) in collaboration with KARI – Katumanga, on 17th October; 2011. This is a drought resistant cassava brand that is disease free as proved by research done by KARI over the years and the species matures faster than the normal cassava. At least 5000 families in the Greater Yatta District received 1000 cassava seedlings each, from the two organisations and the Community Development Fund through the area MP, Hon Charles Kilonzo. While presiding over the event, Hon Kilonzo encouraged the farmers to give cassava a chance as the future is in food security and not food aid.
A visit to the farms in February 2012 revealed that indeed, cassava is a drought resistant crop. It was the only source of greenness in a brown environment, following the current dry conditions in Yatta, which is yet to receive any rains this year.
“Before we started planting cassava, we had tried maize and beans over the years but they could not withstand the harsh environmental conditions here,” says Edward Mutie, the CBO Group Secretary, adding that they started growing cassava in 2008, in collaboration with KARI – Katumanga.
“As a CBO, we have planted over 136,000 cassava cuttings this season, with assistance from Kenya Red Cross and more than three quarters of the cuttings are doing very well, despite the harsh weather conditions,” Mutie says. Mutie says that if poverty has to be eradicated and food security improved in the area, then planting of drought resistant crops such as cassava is a must. “Cassava has done well in Brazil and Thailand and has boosted the economy of these countries; we too want to use cassava for commercial and food security purposes, says Mutie.
The Group has now purchased machines and put a processing facility whereby the first machine chops cassava into pieces, the second one cuts it into smaller chips, the third one is used for pressing to remove the starch and the last one is used for grinding and producing flour.
“Cassava is tolerant to harsh conditions and currently, more than 200,000 households in Yatta are growing it,” says Mutie, adding that cassava has many benefits. “Cassava cuttings are money in itself and we have KARI as ready market, the leaves are eaten as vegetables, the cassava itself is eaten whole or ground into flour and used for making chapatti, ugali, cakes, chips, crisps, among other food stuff,” says Mutie, adding that it can also be sold for starch.
To conclude, Mutie says that climate change is taking toll of farmers in Lower Eastern but the farmers must be ready to change. “ Let us embrace crops that can feed and assist us; we do not need fertilizers or plenty of water or even a lot of labour in planting cassava; I am not saying that other crops are bad; but let us plant drought resistant crops such as sweet potatoes and cassava, if we have to get ourselves out of poverty,” concludes Mutie.