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You really don't need a riverbed to grow sturdy arrowroots

By Jacqueline W Mahugu | October 10th 2015

To many, arrowroot farming can only be done where there is a flowing stream, river or marshland. But with a new variety called upland arrowroot, all you need is a small piece of land.

This variety can be grown almost anywhere in a regular garden, not necessarily on water-soaked land. Better still, the upland arrowroot variety does not require large amounts of water.

Eric Muriuki, a farmer from Meru County, is a specialist in arrowroot farming. “This variety is beneficial for people who buy water. Some people want to grow nduma (arrowroots) but are discouraged because they think they are only grown along streams and rivers. This variety can be planted anywhere,” Muriuki told Smart Harvest at his demonstration farm during last week’s Nairobi International Trade Fair and agricultural show.

Muriuki is a supplier of the arrowroot suckers named sunken, which are used to plant upland arrow roots. “For upland arrowroots, one needs to dig a trench that is two feet deep and three feet wide. You then lay heavy-gauge polythene sheeting along the walls of the trench to preserve water.”

For better yields, Muriuki recommends the use of organic fertiliser.

“Avoid chemical fertiliser like DAP and CAN and use farmyard manure. Mix the manure with the soil at a ratio of one to two (one part manure, two parts soil) and pour it into the trench. Pour water in the ditch until it is completely soaked,” he advises.

“Measure six inches on a large stick and mark it. This is what you use as a panga to plant and weed. Then sink the stick six inches into the trench and place the sucker. The recommended spacing between one crop and the next should be 30cm. A 10-metre long ditch will therefore have 400 stems. A quarter acre can hold 20,000 stems.”

The crop is watered after one week when it begins to sprout, then once or twice weekly thereafter. The tubers mature in six months.

“One arrowoot weighs 1kg or more. In Nairobi, a kilo of arrowroots sells for Sh120, while in Meru, it goes for Sh80,” he says. Muriuki sells one sucker at Sh10.

He also sells sweet potatoes, cassavas and yams, which he says he delivers to farmers across the country. “This is my office as I have no other job. I live in Meru but I travel to Kitale, Machakos and anywhere a farmer requires my services,” he says.

With arrowroots, a farmer only needs to buy the initial suckers for planting. Arrowroots are known for their nutritional value. They aid in digestion, are gluten-free, fat-free and low in calories. “In Meru we even eat the leaves of the plant with ugali and prepare them just like sukuma wiki,” says the farmer.

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