With the ban on the plastic paper bag carriers in Kenya, businesses are struggling to find affordable substitutes in line with the new environmental conservation directive.
The ban has had a significant ripple effect on businesses, consumers and jobs. But there are many possibilities with cassava tuber. Cassava farming, for a long time, has been considered an option for the poor.
What farmers have not recognised is that this neglected tuber is a ‘hidden gold’ yet to be exploited.
The crop has the potential to transform farmers’ lives through value addition. For long, cassava has been used as food and occasionally processed into fine flour and supplied to industries that make confectioneries. But this trend is likely to change with the ban on plastic bags.
Cassava can be transformed into a biodegradable green paper which is not only environment-friendly but also enables food to be stored for a long time.
The use of cassava as the main component in making packaging material is new in Kenya.
It is particularly important for cassava communities, which have in the past reported cases of cyanide poisoning as a result of ingesting raw cassava.
Use of cassava to produce biodegradable paper bags will not only ensure environmental protection but also steer agriculture from low-productivity enterprises to high-productivity commercial production.
The technology which is in use in Indonesia, uses cassavato create sustainable packaging. The cassava bag is 100 per cent natural, biodegradable, sustainable, compostable and recyclable.
Each non-toxic bag will break down into carbon dioxide and water within six months. It even dissolves in water. The paper from cassava is used to make carrier bags and take away food containers for instance disposable coffee cups for take away coffee.
To increase cassava production, the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research organization (KALRO) has developed cassava varieties that are disease resistant.
The recommended cassava varieties to grow are MH95/083, MM96/2480 and MM96/3567. KALRO is also promoting a Rapid multiplication of cassava technology to address the problem of availability of planting materials.
The technology involves the cutting of a cassava stem into smaller (mini-stems) then planted in a nursery box or in loose soils on the ground with adequate moisture. Sprouting occurs after 30 days after which they are transplanted into the field.
How to cultivate it
Cassava can be cultivated, almost in all kinds of soils. However, a deep and sandy, loamy soil is considered as the best suitable for production.
Note that, in the organic-rich soil, tuber growth is less than the vegetative growth. So, grow this crop in a soil having good organic content with proper drainage to obtain a higher yield from it.
Land preparation when growing cassava plays an important role in yield. Your land should be in fine tilth form. This can be done by giving two or three normal ploughing. The weed from the previous crop should be removed from the field. The friable soil is more helpful in producing more.
Ready for harvest
This crop becomes ready for harvesting in about 12 months of the plantation on the main field whereas short duration variety takes about 6 to 8 months. However, harvesting at the right time helps in obtaining the best quality of tubers in a higher amount.
This commercial crop is mainly harvested by hand, by lifting the base of the stem and then pulling it outs. Then they should be removed from the field though hand. Remove the upper portion of plants and stems before harvesting it.
[The writer is an expert on sustainable solutions]