Martin Muto works on his arrowroots farm in the Ng’oroeri area of Kyeni North ward Embu County. [Joseph Muchiri, Standard]

Arrowroot is a popular delicacy in Kenya and is considered a healthier option, especially for breakfast. Popularly known as nduma, the tuber is typically a water crop. However, the crop is now well spread thanks to the upland arrowroot technology.

Kennedy Mugo from Kirinyaga County has been growing arrowroot for commercial value. Varieties include eddoe and dasheen.

Soil requirements

Arrowroot thrives in a well-drained loamy soil. Avoid clay soil because they cause poor rhizome development. As a result, the rhizome becomes deformed and breaks during harvesting. Also, when planting, avoid shaded areas.

The required soil pH is between 5.5 and 6.5.

Preparing the waterbed

Make holes with about nine by nine inches spacing. The gap should have organic fertiliser to increase the productivity of the farm. If you are planting on a quarter of an acre, you can prepare up to 10 moisture beds, with each bed holding around 220 corms.

“Water the bed at least once every week for optimal yield. If the beds have been planted during the dry season, we advise you to mulch the beds to prevent evaporation and control weeds,” says Mugo.

Land preparation

Plough and harrow two to three times until it is deep enough for tuber growth. You don’t have to plant along riverbeds because new innovation known as upland technology allows you to grow arrowroot anywhere.

In this case, create trenches lined up with polythene paper. The paper is filled with manure mixed with soil at a ratio of 2:1.

“Irrigate as needed. Make sure the soil has enough moisture, especially during the early stages of growth,” says the farmer.

Planting

Arrowroot can be propagated by suckers and root stock or rhizomes with two or more nodes each. Two suckers may be planted to a ridge at a distance of 1.0 by 0.75 metres. Under poor soil conditions, the ridges should be set closer to about 0.75 x 0.30 metres apart. Composite or commercial fertiliser can be applied as advised by experts.

Weeding and management

Weeding must be done during the first three to four months, depending on the weed population.

“Avoid stepping on the ridges to minimise soil compaction that will unnecessarily affect the rooting and tuber development. Alternate hilling-up and off-barring must be employed until the plants are robust enough to cover spaces between rows,” says Mugo.

Pests and diseases

Diseases include bacterial wilt, banded leaf blight, and leaf mosaic. To control, use healthy propagating materials and spray as advised. The main pest is the leaf roller.

Harvesting

The crop is ready eight to 10 months after planting. Harvest when most of the leaves turn yellow and have shrunken

“You can also harvest at 11 to 12 months when the yield has higher starch content. Like any other root crop, it is harvested by passing a plough close to the furrows, exposing the tuberous roots, then cutting off the stem.”

A fork may also be used or by pulling up the whole plant in case of sandy loam soil and in small-scale farming.

Market

Market for nduma is available as it is widely consumed. Mugo sells his produce in bulk and in small quantities. A kilogram sells at Sh80.

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