Cassava, often considered a humble crop for subsistence food, is now undergoing a transformation in Kenya, thanks to the groundbreaking efforts of Egerton University. Acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Richard Mulwa has spearheaded an initiative to enhance the value addition of cassava, which could significantly impact food security and rural incomes across the country.

Cassava’s potential for growth is not limited to a specific region; it thrives in coastal, Nyanza, western, and parts of the Rift Valley and Central areas. By adding value to this crop, Egerton University aims to bring about a positive change in the lives of many smallholder farmers.

Traditionally, cassava’s highly perishable nature posed a challenge for farmers. They would delay harvesting, preserving the tubers in the ground until needed. Unfortunately, this led to exposure to diseases and pests. However, with modern methods and value addition, this scenario is set to change for the better.

Through support from the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM) and the MasterCard Foundation, Egerton University is developing a guidebook on cassava value addition. This guidebook will empower smallholder farmers to produce various cassava-based products, including cakes, crisps, fries, gari (breakfast cereal), and flour for making chapatti, among other items.

The transformative project, known as the Cassava Value Chain Upgrading (CVCU), has already made a significant impact. By incorporating 6,000 smallholder farmers in Njoro, Lower Subukia, and Solai Sub Counties, the project has successfully linked cassava growers to industrial manufacturers, fostering a market-oriented approach to agriculture.

Moreover, the initiative is not just focused on farmers but also extends its reach to Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) students, women, youth groups, and farming communities. By sharing knowledge on production, processing, and marketing of cassava-based products, as well as insights into breeding and food science, Egerton University is creating a comprehensive ecosystem for cassava enthusiasts.

The guidebook being developed is a treasure trove of popular cassava recipes, showcasing the versatility of this crop. Its aim is to generate awareness about various ways to process and consume cassava and its derived products. This approach is expected to stimulate new markets and increased demand for cassava.

In addition to enhancing food security and farmer incomes, the guidebook also focuses on creating employment opportunities for youth in both rural and urban settings.

Cassava is not just a subsistence food but holds immense potential as a raw material for an array of value-added products, from coarse flour to high-tech starch gels. It can be used in the production of alcohol, animal feeds, and baked goods, as well as in advanced industries like plywood, paper, and textiles.

Egerton University is also working on addressing the challenges faced by cassava production, particularly the Cassava Brown Streak Disease (CBSD). The university has identified resistant varieties that are suited to the specific regions in terms of yield, maturity, and cyanide levels. These varieties are now in the process of being transferred to locally adapted breeds, offering great promise for farmers.

The potential for cassava in the brewing industry is also being explored. East Africa Breweries Limited (EABL) has been a key partner in cassava projects, with a focus on brewing high-quality beer from cassava. This presents an exciting opportunity for both farmers and industrial players.

To ensure the success of this initiative, Egerton University is breeding cassava varieties that are resistant to cassava mosaic disease and cassava brown streak disease. This could significantly reduce the time needed for cassava breeding, allowing for quicker distribution to farmers.

Cassava’s adaptability to drought conditions and its ability to withstand various stresses, such as water and heat, water salinity, and new pests, make it a valuable asset in ensuring sustainable food and nutrition security. It also holds the key to enhancing resilience to climate change, creating employment opportunities, and increasing the incomes of smallholder farmers.

In the face of a changing agricultural landscape and the need for sustainable, resilient food sources, Egerton University’s innovative approach to cassava value addition offers a promising path forward for Kenyan agriculture. This endeavor not only empowers smallholder farmers but also transforms cassava into a valuable resource with the potential to benefit various industries and contribute to a more secure food supply.