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Kalro develops new cassava in push for alternative crops

A woman weeds the new variety at a Kalro farm. PHOTO | ISAAC WALE
A woman weeds the new variety at a Kalro farm. PHOTO | ISAAC WALE 

Researchers have developed high yielding, drought and disease-resistant cassava varieties in a bid to encourage alternative crops in the face of reduced maize production.

The varieties, the Kenya Agricultural Research and Livestock Organisation (Kalro) said, will be able to withstand cassava brown streak and cassava mosaic diseases that have seen farmers’ yields reduced to zero per cent.

Dr Michael Akhwale, who is in charge of roots and tuber crops at the Kalro station, said the case for the uptake of the new varieties had been made attractive by the halving of the maturity period from 24 months to a year.

He, however, urged farmers to only use seeds certified by the research organisation.

“Kalro provides clean planting materials to farmers. That’s why we are encouraging farmers to get certified seeds from our institutions to reduce the chances of the diseases being spread,” he said.

Cassava is a staple food for communities living in Busia, Siaya and lower South Nyanza and can be grown by an average farmer since it does do not require a lot of input.

Dr Francis Wayuwa, a post harvest scientist at Kalro, advised farmers to consume cassava that is boiled or processed adding that raw cassava is high in cyanide, which is harmful to their health.

He said: “Don’t buy cassava roots in the market and chew. Avoid eating raw cassava because it has high cyanide levels, which is poisonous.”

He added that cassava should be harvested as soon as it matures adding that when it overstays in the farm, high quantities of cyanide develop.

The scientist said cassava leaves if dried can be fed to livestock and eaten as vegetables if cooked properly.

“Cassava can be dried and processed into flour, which can be used for cooking ugali, crisps, cakes and production of pharmaceutical beauty products among others,” he said.

The experts called on farmers to embrace cassava production as an alternative crop to fight food insecurity and for commercial purposes instead of relying on sugarcane, tea and maize production.

Kakamega county crops officer Titus Omenga, also calling for increased uptake, said cassava is rich in starch and farmers can bank on it since it can be harvested all the year.