Peter Mwita uproots weeds on his four-acre arrowroot farm in Maeta, Kuria East, as he takes no chances to ensure everything goes right.
The farm hosts some 10,000 arrowroot (nduma) plants and the farmer hopes to reap big from the crop that is not widely grown in the region.
“Last year, I grew 8,000 stems but I increased the number this season after seeing the crop was doing well.” He started growing arrowroots in 2016 after ditching cabbages and tomatoes.
“I invested Sh26,000, which went to buying suckers and fertiliser and used the rest of the money on preparing the land. Last year, from 8,000 stems, I was able to make some Sh300,000,” says Mwita, who expects to reap more this season from the 10,000 stems.
To grow the crop, he prepares the land well and removes all the weeds. He then digs holes with a diameter of one-and-a-half feet, a depth of one foot and 20cm to 30cm spacing.
“One needs to adequately space the suckers to avoid getting small-sized arrowroots. Too big spaces are also not very good as they produce large arrowroots which are not very tasty. So one should maintain medium spacing for better sizes,” he explains.
Thereafter, he places the suckers inside the moist holes and covers them with a thin layer of soil. Then after two weeks, the farmer adds on top of the hole a little manure mixed with inorganic fertiliser. The suckers take a month to develop.
“I weed twice especially when the crop is still young since once it grows, it covers the weeds with its leaves, killing them, which is one of the best things with arrowroots.”
The arrowroots take six months to mature, says Marwa, adding he grows the Dasheen variety, which is characterised by large whitish tubers and wide leaves. The other variety is Eddoe.
The farmer is able to tell that a plant is mature and ready for harvesting. He does this by looking at the colour of leaves; which changes from green to brown upon maturity.
He relies on the nearby Migori River to water the crop during the dry season.
“Arrowroots require lots of water to grow. The good thing is that my farm is adjacent to Migori River, so I am able to irrigate the crops during dry spells,” he says.
He sells the tubers from Sh30 toSh50 a piece, depending on the size. A kilo, on the other hand, goes for Sh100. He sells the produce mainly in Kehancha, Isebania and Migori towns.
“I also pack the produce in sacks and send them to specific traders at Wakulima market in Nairobi where the crop fetches better prices.”
Unlike other ventures, the farmer says, the good thing about arrowroot farming is that returns are high. “The cost of production is low as the crop requires little fertiliser and is rarely affected by diseases and pests save for the tendency to rot due to excessive watering.”
Booker Oloo, an agricultural extension officer in Kuria East, says arrowroots do well in the region due to moist soils.
“Arrowroots require moist soils to grow and this region receives adequate rainfall, making it ideal for the crop.
There are also many waterlogged areas in Kuria where arrowroots are grown,” says Oloo.
The agriculturalist notes that initially, the crop was seen as a poor man’s food. “That is why it was not largely grown except in remote villages but nowadays nduma is in high demand as people have realised its nutritional value.”
Besides being eaten raw, arrowroots can also be value-added to make various products.
“Apart from being boiled and eaten mostly for breakfast, arrowroots are also used to manufacture biscuits and crisps and to thicken sauces. Their leaves are also medicinal as the crops are extremely low in calories as compared to other starches.”
They are also rich in dietary fibre, which aids in efficient digestion and clears out excess cholesterol from the body. Its high levels of potassium also help ensure good health of the heart.