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Cashing in on rising demand for arrowroots

Safari Muliatsi, 24, is enjoying a good market for his arrowroots after being among a few farmers cultivating the indigenous food in Vihiga County at a time when demand for the tubers is high.

He says arrowroots are nutritionally superior as they contain vitamins, minerals, as well as other essential nutrients and is popular with many Kenyan communities, especially urban dwellers.“Remember, this type of food has not yet been modified through bio-technology.

Therefore, one has the comfort of knowing that they are eating natural foods free of chemicals,” Safari, from Mwituko, Ebukhaya location says. Earlier, he had struggled with ideas on projects to start on the family’s 0.5 hectare piece of wetland, which was idle.

Safari first built ponds to practice fish farming in 2010, but the venture failed. “The ponds were invaded by fish predators —snakes and monitor lizards—which ate almost all the fish,” he says.

Later, a friend working with ministry of Agriculture advised him to give arrowroot farming a try as it is a less expensive farming venture. The agricultural extension officer even trained him on this.

Safari embarked on the new venture in 2012 after quitting fish farming. “Arrowroots thrives anywhere provided there is enough moisture in the soil for its normal growth and development,” he says.

He says arrowroots grow best in places where rainfall is uniformly distributed throughout the year. The rhizomes are resistant to dry weather and can stay long in the soil, growing and maturing fast.

Arrowroots thrive best on well-drained loamy soils, the foot of hills, valleys and on newly cleared land. Safari plants his arrowroots in an open field where there is sufficient moisture throughout its growing period. He ploughs then harrows the land three times a year depending on the soil structure.

The land is supposed to be ploughed deep enough to provide favourable conditions for better root development. Safari propagates his Arrowroots using suckers and rootstock or rhizomes with two or more nodes each.

No irrigation is needed provided there is enough moisture in the soil, especially at the early stages of growth. Adding manure from the farm during planting gives him better yields and no fertilizers are needed.

Unlike other crops, arrowroot are safe from serious attacks by pests, saving Safari the expense of buying insecticides. “Even moles that feed on tubers do not disturb the arrowroots in my farm,” he says.

The crop is ready for harvest after 10 to 12 months after planting. A kilo sells at Sh200, but customers in Luanda town offer better prices. Three years later, Safari owns a retail shop with stocks valued at over Sh200,000 and 12 goats. He wants to practise mixed farming in the near future.

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