For most people living in arid and semi-arid regions, cassava is a staple because it is drought-tolerant and also grows in a wide variety of soils without fertilizer, even poor soils, unlike crops such as maize. It is for this reason that PlantVillage is seeking funding to scale up its thriving cassava project meant for farmers in Kenya as a climate change mitigation strategy for building agricultural resilience.
Farmers in Nyanza, Western, Coast, and Rift Valley regions are already reaping from the success of 160 demo plots that were planted with clean cassava cuttings that are highly resistant to cassava diseases.
Each demo plot of a quarter an acre cost the organization an estimated Ksh6,500 for ploughing, purchasing cassava cuttings, and farm labour, not to mention the costs incurred by field officers training and carrying out surveys to ensure the crops grow up well.
The demo plots, apart from being test fields, act as learning sites for farmers and also serve to increase cassava production in the regions.
PlantVillage field officers guide a farmer in Migori County on how to use the AI on her farm
“The first crop PlantVillage focused on was cassava. It is a vital crop in Africa and has serious diseases like Cassava Mosaic Disease, Cassava Brown Streak, and mites. Our Plantvillage Nuru: pest and disease monitoring using Artificial Intelligence has evolved and is good at diagnosing these problems’’ says Dr. David Hughes, Founder and Director at PlantVillage.
“Though Kenyan farmers continue to grow cassava every year, their efforts are hindered by heavy yield losses due to the cassava diseases capable of reducing cassava yield up to 100%. PlantVillage upscaling cassava project in Kenya will not only create more awareness on the identification of diseases through artificial intelligence but will aid in value addition, setting up more aggregation centers and also enlighten farmers on the ideal cassava market,” says John Chelal, the Director of Dream Team Agro Consultancy Limited.
Edwin Cheserem, who works with the PlantVillage Dream Team in Kenya as a field officer, reports that in Baringo County, cassava demo plots of the MM96 and MH96 variety were set up in May 2022. Of the 22 demo plots, 18 have survived the harsh climatic conditions experienced in the region of temperatures of up to 35 degrees Celsius.
cassava demo plot in Baringo County
Few cases of cassava diseases have been identified and farmers have been trained on how to survey the plots for pests and disease control as well as good agricultural practices, a move meant to increase farmer adoption of cassava farming. Farmers in Baringo are now optimistic about a bumper harvest coming the year 2023.
Farmers in Kilifi County have also been able to deal with the hunger problem since the establishment of 16 cassava demo plots of the Tajirika and Shibe varieties in 2021 to 30 in 2022. In the past, cassava diseases in most plantations resulted in low yields.
‘The introduction of cassava demo plots in the county has enabled farmers to have access to clean cuttings, and learn about good agricultural practices in cassava production resulting in increased quality yields,” says Mercylyn Tsuma, PlantVillage Dream Team lead in Kilifi County.
Farmers harvesting cassava in Kilifi County.
PlantVillage has also established 19 demo plots of the new MM variety in Migori County. Hesbon Bosire, a PlantVillage field officer based in Migori County, says his team offers regular technical support to the farmers on agronomic practices and how they can manage diseases, as well as giving education on value-added practices to their cassava produce by visiting farmer groups.
In Busia County, more than 60 demo plots have been established, and the quality products from the harvest are used as raw materials at the Amukura East Aggregation Center, which promotes the commercialization of cassava.
Farmer Josphine processing cassava at an aggregation Center
One of our first cassava farmer Josephine who was initially selling her cassava at 32-38ksh/Kilo is now all smiles as PlantVillage has linked her to Agricycle Agricycle Global – Transforming waste into opportunity that will pay 65ksh/kilo, an increase of about 50%. Agricycle wants atleast 10tonnes /month. This will expand across Kenya and into Tanzania and Uganda.
“In Busia County, we mainly grow the NASE14, MM, and MH95 cassava variety. Farmers talk of the improved cassava yield courtesy of teachings they get from PlantVillage on farm hygiene, and how to use the PlantVillage Nuru mobile application to identify diseases and get feedback on how to control them. Efficient sun drying at the aggregation center and the use of new and improved drying technology have also ensured cassava is processed sustainably,’’ says Bismark Plimo, Busia County coordinator.
Dr. Chelal talks of plans to set up an additional 5,000 cassava demo plots targeting farmer groups across the country as well as create more connections with government and non-governmental agencies across the country.
The project will steer PlantVillage’s objective of eradicating hunger through investing in agricultural technology for small-holder farmers.
- By Mercy Achieng