When she returned home from the US a few years ago, Gladys Chania purchased three pieces of land in the sloppy Gatundu North Constituency in Kiambu County.
Her motivation was to be like a majority of Kenyans who invest in property locally after spending years abroad.
She had no immediate plans of farming or developing the plots as the fact of owning land was enough satisfaction.
However, the previous owners had grown arrowroots on the land through which a stream runs. She decided to grow them, besides everyone else seemed to have the crop on their land, thus, it looked the best thing to do.
“I never thought arrowroots could earn someone money considering the crop is just left to grow on its own. I also had not heard of anyone who had taken arrowroot farming seriously,” Gladys told Seeds of Gold.
But then it was time for harvesting six months later and the dilemma of where to take the excess produce hit her hard as almost all of her neighbours had the crop on their farms.
A solution came when she talked to her neighbours at her home in Thika town who agreed to be buying from her. So she would have the produce delivered to the estate from where she would distribute to neighbours.
With time, the supply outran the demand and she was forced to look for a bigger market since she was being forced by circumstances to sell the arrowroot at throwaway prices.
She landed a deal with a supply chain store with an outlet in Thika town as well as traders who agreed to be buying her produce on wholesale.
With the demand high and the need to be consistent rising, Gladys hired a farm manager and 20 casual labourers who work on the farm, especially during weeding and harvesting.
Today, each plantation in the three plots that make half-an-acre, the size of her farm, fetches her about Sh200,000 a year, making a cool Sh600,000 or more annually.
To grow arrowroots, dig deep to soften the soil. Holes should be six to 10 inches in depth depending on the size of the stem. Do not put too much soil in the hole since the crops grows upwards and will regularly need more manure and water. In six months, one can get mature arrowroot. For larger ones, you can allow eight or ten months depending on the availability of water and enough manure. Weeding is necessary to avoid competition for nutrients from the soil.
Joseph Mureithi, the principal at Waruhiu Agricultural Development Centre in Githunguri, says arrowroot farming is a viable venture which if taken seriously can bring huge profits.
“Many people are opting to have the arrowroot for breakfast and I don’t think there is any hotel in the country where you won’t find it because people no longer want bread,” Mureithi told Seeds of Gold.
The crop, Mureithi said, does not require a lot of farm input since it does not need fertiliser or regular care, making the cost of production minimal.
And the crop does not only grow along riverbanks as many farmers believe since it can be grown through moisture farming.
Impressed by the returns, Gladys is planning to increase her plantation this year with a target of making about Sh1.5 million a year.
“I want to increase the plantation to over an acre and also do it in a more advanced way. The venture has proven to be an interesting one since it does not take a lot of your time and the returns are good.”
To keep her crop free from contamination, Gladys does not use fertiliser but only organic manure sourced from her farm where she has kept cows, goats and chicken.
She encourages more people to practice commercial arrowroot farming, saying the current supply does not meet demand.