Farmers in Chonyi, Kilifi South Sub County have adopted cassava as their alternative food which they blend with maize to make nutritious food that helps them to fight famine which used to haunt the area in previous years.
Intercropping maize with cassava in every long rains season that commences in April to July and during the short rains beginning from October to December, the residents have found it easy to cope with life even when one crop fails to perform well in a season.
According to 72- year-old Mbaga Lewa, a prominent maize and cassava farmer in Bandara Salama, Chonyi division, cassava which in the past was used as a cash crop only, has now been accepted for food by even the young generation unlike before when they had an aversion for the tuber.
He said 30 years ago, farmers planted cassava mainly for sell after a cassava processing plant was established at Mazeras near Mombasa where they transported the crop in large quantities and made good money which they used to take their children to school.
“I remember in the 1970s to early 1990s when trucks driven by Asians used to come to our farms to purchase cassava. A kilo of cassava by then used to be sold at between 50 cents and 1.50cents which by then was good money and enough for our use and for taking our children to school,” he said.
Mbaga revealed that by then, most farmers in Kauma, Chonyi and Kaloleni had adopted cassava as their second cash crop after coconuts and engaged in vigorous farming of the crop knowing they had a ready market but by late 90s, things started changing as the trucks which used to move to their farms stopped.
“We later learnt that the processing plant had closed for reasons we could not know and in 1997, cassava farmers incurred heavy losses after their cassava was forced to rot in their farms due to the lack of market. This is the time when farmers started giving up and abandoned cassava farming as a cash crop,” he said.
He said many farmers intercropped cassava with maize and since it did not cost them much in farm inputs as both crops did well in any type of soil as long as they were well attended to. He added that locals sometimes blend cassava with maize in cooking ugali to form nutritious food though not many people like it.
“Since we lost major markets for cassava, we now have to sell it to willing buyers in towns of Mombasa, Mariakani, Kaloleni, Kilifi and Malindi where we sell the 50kilogram bag at between Sh800 and 1200. The produce receives good marketing prices during the month-long Ramadhan season when most Muslims come for it,” he said.
Mbaga revealed that cases of famine can no longer be reported in the area as the locals turn to cassava when they exhaust their maize adding that it has become rare to see people going to shops to purchase maize flour.
By Harrison Yeri