Kisumu teacher bets big on good old arrowroots
When Jacqueline Okanda, a teacher by profession decided to try her hand in farming four years ago, she did not know that it would be a turning point in her life.
Unmoved by the misconception that farming is dirty work, she was determined to find a supplementary income generator besides her salary, which has now changed her fortunes in a big way.
“A portion of my farm is swampy so I figured arrowroots, which require water for better growth, was a viable venture. I got down to work,” she recalls.
Seven months later, her arrowroots were fully grown and ready for harvest. “I harvested the first batch and they were very tasty.
I began by selling the produce locally for household consumption and the market was promising,” says Okanda, a resident of Sinyolo village in Kisumu West subcounty.
Motivated by good returns from the initial harvest, the farmer capitalised on crop’s viability in the area with the objective of generating direct income.
Consequently, she scaled up the production in the subsequent seasons to tap into the local market.
She earns an average of Sh40,000 every planting season from selling arrowroots, but anticipates the income could go up in future particularly with plans to increase the acreage under production.
A stem of arrowroots weighing one kilogramme sells at Sh150 depending on the market trend.
She also sells them in pieces at an average of Sh70 to Sh100 each. “I find ready market locally.
Arrowroots is a crop whose market is guaranteed locally and it fetches better prices than similar tubers, such as cassavas and sweet potatoes,” states Okanda.
For sustainable sale, she has established a network with few hoteliers in Kisumu town, who regularly place orders for the produce.
She has mastered how to plant the crop systematically in paddocks that gives sustainable yields.
The farm is located in a fairly plain terrain with black cotton soil, which is proven by agricultural experts to be suitable for growth of the tuber crop.
In her farm, there are paddocks of young arrowroot crops, those nearing maturity and those ready for harvesting.
“My farm never runs out of stock of the product. Customers’ troop in on a daily basis and conveniently get the commodity,” she says.
She has two farm assistants who help her with the routine farm work. The tuber crop matures for harvesting between five and six months from the transplanting period and the propagation is done from planting tuber seedlings.
As part of diversification technique, she also introduced tissue culture bananas few months later.
In a good season, she takes home approximately Sh50,000 per month from selling the bananas.
A whole bunch of bananas retails at Sh1,250 in her farm depending on the size.
Currently, her farm has 1,000 bananas after initially transplanting 20 suckers and they take nine months to mature.
Her journey in farming began on half an acre farm that she used to test the production of arrowroots before extending to large scale production after realising its viability.
She now has one and a half acre farm under the tuber crop. Another advantage of growing the tuber, she says is that the operational costs for cultivating the crop are fairly low, because they are not affected by diseases and require little care.
Likewise, growing arrowroots neither needs using chemicals to control pests nor fertiliser to improve yields.
“It does not cost you much to produce arrowroots, what you need to do is just keep the farm clean and weed-free and ensure water supply is properly regulated to keep the crops healthy,” explains Okanda.
Amos Amenya, an agronomist attached to Lake Basin Development Authority says such agricultural ventures provide potential local farmers with best opportunities to tap into and grow.
He states that arrowroots and banana enterprises offer plenty of market to farmers in the lake region and across the country.
Arrowroots are a key source of complex carbohydrates for energy that is recommended for persons with health challenges such as diabetes.
“Arrowroots and tissue culture banana are extremely viable enterprises that farmers should go for in the endeavors to ensure food sufficiency.
These two crops are in great demand nationally,” Amenya says.
For better yields, the agronomist urges horticultural farmers to seek agricultural officers’ expertise advice and be cautious with the source of planting materials they use.