By Joyce Ojanji  

As Kenya grapples with a soaring demand for cassava, which has surpassed local production levels by a staggering 200%, the government is making an effort to ensure that the country becomes self-sufficient.

Paul Rono, Kenya’s Principal Secretary of the State Department for Crop Development and Agricultural Research, Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development, said that the government is embracing high-quality seeds to promote cassava production to meet challenges in food security and commercialization internally.

He was speaking during the National Cassava Conference and Expo 2023 (NCCE) in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital where he noted that despite the country’s potential to produce three million tonnes of cassava annually, it only produces one million tonnes.

‘’Kenya’s traditional cassava production systems are failing to address household food security and income, forcing the country to import food from the neighboring countries to meet the consumption demand,” Rono said, adding that it is so unfortunate that Kenya imports cassava despite having fertile and arable land.

He urged national crop research institutions to conduct a thorough identification, classification, and communication of all crop varieties within the next three months. This initiative aims to provide a comprehensive understanding of Kenya’s crop portfolio and promote its farmers effectively.

According to Peter Aluoch, the Head of Programmes at Self Help Africa, last year alone, Kenya’s demand for cassava reached a staggering three million metric tonnes (MT). This demand far outstripped local production, which amounted to just 946,076 MT grown across 61,592 hectares.

Aluoch noted that Kenya lags behind other East African countries in cassava production. While Uganda produces four million MT annually and Tanzania yields eight million MT, Kenya’s output remains significantly lower. This disparity can be attributed to various factors, such as the lack of clean planting materials, unstructured markets, weak seed systems, and a deficient regulatory framework.

‘’Cassava cultivation in Kenya is predominantly concentrated in coastal, central, and western regions. Farmers in these areas rely on cassava not only for sustenance but also as a source of income and livestock feed. However, despite its vital role, the current yields fall far below the crop’s agronomic potential,” Aluoch explained.

Morag Ferguson, a Crop Germplasm Scientist and Molecular Breeder at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), emphasized the critical role of high-quality cassava seeds in boosting production.

She emphasized the need for new high-yielding seed varieties resistant to viruses. A collaborative effort between IITA and Self Help Africa, known as the Cassava Seed Tracker, is currently underway to improve seed traceability and ensure the traceability of mother plants.

The Expo has brought together over 150 exhibitors and more than 1,000 participants. The event aims to address the pressing challenges hindering cassava’s development, such as the economic crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine, inflation, debt tightening, and the climate emergency.

Organized by the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development and Self Help Africa, a charity organization, the event also aims to raise public awareness about the importance of cassava as food in improving national nutrition, security, and socioeconomic development throughout the country.