NAIROBI, KENYA: Cassava farmers in Western Kenya and camel milk producers in North Eastern should adopt good practices to earn more from their products.
Agricultural researchers and nutritionists say the two products have a huge market but they are produced in dirty conditions, making them not fit for human consumption.
Speaking on Friday during the inaugural East Africa Food Safety, Nutrition, Agro-processing and Innovation Conference at the Kenya Forestry Research Institute headquarters, the experts noted that when cassava and camel milk are handled well, they have the potential to empower the farmers economically and help bridge the gap in food security.
Dr Cyrus Githunguri who has extensively researched on cassava, said cassava has 1500 products and can help alleviate hunger if good post-harvest practices are adopted.
"We can boil cassava or eat it raw, feed it to livestock, mill it together with maize and millet to cook ugali and sell it in the market for money. Unfortunately we are not getting the best out of the crop," Githunguri said.
The researcher singled out farmers in Western where the crop is widely grown as the ones who are not doing the right thing.
"My research in the region shows that cassava has dangerous moulds and other bacteria, making it not safe for consumption because farmers don't dry it correctly," Githunguri said.
Noting that fermenting cassava and drying it well eliminates the disease-causing bacteria, the researcher said this is not the case in Western and denies the farmers access to the product's market.
"There is a big market for cassava in Kenya with Coast and Nairobi leading in its consumption but our farmers have not exploited it," Githunguri said.
He added that this forces cassava dealers to import 200 tonnes from Uganda weekly to meet the demand, denying Kenyans the money. Cassava from Uganda is clean and safe to eat."
Nicanor Odongo, a scientist and vice secretary of Food Science and Technology Platform said hygiene and safety knowledge and practices among camel milk handlers among the pastoralists is wanting.
Odongo noted that although the pastoralists currently produce 900 million of camel milk, they can't sell it because their milk is deemed to be of low quality.
"There is only one camel milk processing plant in Kenya at Nanyuki but the operators don't buy camel milk from North Eastern due to safety concerns," Odongo said.
He added that this leaves the farmers at the mercy of middlemen who exploit them.
"In Isiolo, middlemen buy the milk at Sh16 per litre and sell it at Sh200 per litre to the consumers. Let both county and national governments help the farmers to commercialise the production and help them get more money. The farmers need training in handling the milk and good milking and storage equipment," Odongo said.
He further noted that the community needs more training on consumption habits because they take the milk when raw believing that boiling it destroys its nutritional value.
Francis Wayua of the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Organisation (KALRO) called for more interventions to help the pastoral communities have more to eat.
"Many pastoralists who live in the arid and semi-arid (ASAL) areas and 75 per cent of them live below the poverty line and depend on social safety net," Wayua said.
He also called for community sensitisation, noting that many of those who have nothing to eat remain indoors for fear of stigmatisation.
"Parents fear to take malnutritioned to hospital and let them to die at home. Expectant mothers starve themselves for fear that eating much will make it hard for them to deliver kids. This is not rue and needs to change," Wayua said.
Prof Ruth Oniang'o called on the political establishment to do more for the region.
"There was a ministry created for North Eastern but it didn't achieve much. Local politicians should do more to rally the Government to make the region develop instead of just being elected and relocate to live in Nairobi," Oniang'o said.