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Script 96.3

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In Africa, cassava is eaten by roughly 800 million people. But in many African cultures, cassava is often thought of only as a poor man’s crop. Recently, however, scientists have bred new drought-resistant varieties of cassava that are high-yielding, fast-maturing, disease and pest-resistant, and have lower levels of cyanide than traditional varieties.

Farmers in East Africa have started growing new cassava varieties introduced by the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute and are selling their produce as food for people as well as to the livestock feed industry. The once marginalized crop is slowly regaining popularity in East Africa.

This script captures the experiences of farmers who are growing and selling cassava in Kenya. It shows how farmers can grow cassava to improve their income and food security. For some farmers, cassava has been of vital importance. It has been the difference between having food on the table and having nothing to eat.

This script is based on actual interviews. You could use this script as inspiration to research and write a script on cassava or other vital food security crops in your area. You might choose to produce this script as part of your regular farmer program, using voice actors to represent the speakers. If so, please make sure to tell your audience at the beginning of the program that the voices are those of actors, not the original people involved in the interviews.

If you broadcast to a cassava-growing area, you might want to adapt this program for your audience and then invite listeners to call or text their comments and questions. Here are some possibilities for discussion:

  • Are there opportunities for farmers to profit from adding value to cassava in your listening area?
  • Can cassava farmers benefit from joining farmers’ groups? How?
  • What are the barriers to profiting from cassava in the way that the Kenyan farmers have profited in this script?

Script

Signature tune up then under

HOST:
Greetings, listeners, and welcome to the program. My name is ____. Today we will be talking about a crop that can feed you and give you more income. For some farmers, it may even save their lives! (Pause)

Farmers in eastern Kenya have come to recognize the value of growing and processing cassava, a plant that used to be thought of only as a poor man’s crop. These farmers grow cassava in their small farms. And by organizing themselves into groups, they are able to get the maximum benefits from marketing their produce collectively.

I visited a few farmers and talked to them about cassava farming. I also talked to a representative of Farm Concern International, an organization that is connecting these farmers to the market. First we will hear from Margaret Nduko, a farmer whose family had no food until cassava saved their lives.

Signature tune up and out. Sound of a milling machine, then fade and hold under conversation.

HOST:
Hello, Margaret. What were you growing before you started growing cassava?

NDUKO:
I was growing maize for my family to eat and also for selling.

HOST:
So why did you move to growing cassava?

NDUKO:
Before, I used to think that cassava was a poor man’s crop. Until my maize crop disappointed me. For three seasons continuously, I had no harvest. My family had nothing to eat and my children dropped out of school for lack of fees. So last year when I learnt about cassava, I convinced my husband that we should try growing it.

HOST:
And he accepted?

NDUKO:
At first he was very reluctant, but eventually he accepted and we tried growing the new variety of cassava. We had a very good harvest.

HOST:
How did the cassava change your life?

NDUKO:
It was a very good year (laughing). My family had food during the dry season and I sold some. Now my children are back at school. We decided we must plant more in the next season.

HOST:
Listener, I am speaking with Margaret Nduko, and we are at the Mitaboni farmers’ group shop, which is in the local market of the Kathiani district of Kenya’s Eastern Province. The place is busy! Some women are milling, others are cooking, and others are selling cassava products. I am curious about the machines in the room and so I ask Margaret, who is also the women’s representative of the Mitaboni group, about them.

HOST:
These two machines here … let’s start with the one on your right – what is it for?

NDUKO:
This is a cassava chipper. This inlet is where we put the cassava. The blades you see inside chip the cassava into small pieces which are then ready for drying. The machine runs on electricity or other sources of energy. Or it can also chip manually.

HOST:
What about the other machine?

NDUKO:
This one is a milling machine. After the cassava chips are dry, this machine grinds them into flour.

HOST:
It looks and sounds like a maize or wheat flour miller.

NDUKO:
Yes, it is the same.

HOST:
Do you talk to other women about the benefits of growing cassava?

NDUKO:
Yes, together with the other members of our group, we talk to women in the market and at home. Women are more receptive than men, and now they even come to the shop and ask for cassava products and about how to grow cassava.

HOST:
What about your own children? Have they benefited from cassava?

NDUKO:
My last born child is three years old. He is very strong and healthy. I weaned him on cassava and millet porridge and I mix it with his other food. He loves it. I cannot compare his health to my other children when they were his age.

HOST:
What future plans do you have for cassava?

NDUKO:
We want to increase our area of planting cassava from half an acre to one acre. This crop has changed our lives and I would encourage other women to try it. It is not a poor man’s crop.

Fade up sounds of milling machines, then cross-fade to sounds of farm. Fade sounds and hold under conversation.

HOST:
David Makau is a cassava farmer and the chairperson of the Mitaboni farmers group in eastern Kenya. I visited his farm and I was amazed by his healthy looking cassava crops. I started by asking him what he does to make his cassava plants so healthy.

MAKAU:
These crops do not require much – but see how big and healthy they are! I got cuttings of the improved variety from Kenya Agricultural Research Institute, or KARI. All I need is to dig a four-inch hole in the ground during the rainy season, plant the cutting, and weed it from time to time. Even if the weather is dry, it will bud and grow, and in seven to nine months, it is ready for harvest. I do not need any fertilizer or pesticide.

HOST:
I can see that many other farmers around you are also growing cassava.

MAKAU:
Yes, most of them are in the cassava farmers group. We are 110 farmers who are now growing the crop in our small half-acre to one acre farms. We now have 21 acres between us that we have dedicated to cassava farming.

HOST:
Before growing cassava, what else were you growing?

MAKAU:
Mostly maize, beans and vegetables. But they were not doing well.

HOST:
Why?

MAKAU:
The climate has really changed in this area. In the past few years, we have had many long dry seasons and our rainy seasons are now shorter. So we end up not having any harvest from our maize and vegetables. Most of the people in this area were depending on food aid from the government until three years ago when we started growing the improved cassava.

HOST:
Do you see any change in the farmers’ lives from the time they started growing the cassava?

MAKAU:
Very much, very much. The farmers can now meet all their daily expenses from the cassava they harvest, and there is a ready market for the tubers and the cuttings. They can now pay school fees, too. They also eat the cassava, because many are realizing it is not just food for the poor but for everyone.

HOST:
While we were talking with Makau, a healthy-looking elderly man passed by and greeted us. Makau introduced me to his neighbour, Joseph Musyoka, a retired teacher who is also growing cassava. I jokingly asked if eating cassava is what makes him look younger than his age.

MAKAU:
(Laughing) Maybe … My wife and I love cassava and other traditional African foods. We have cassava for breakfast, with tea, and together with stew for either lunch or dinner. You should meet her – she looks even younger than me! We keep busy in the farm, so that keeps us young.

HOST:
Can I see how you grow your cassava?

MUSYOKA:
Sure, let’s all go to my farm. It is that one right next to Makau’s.

Footsteps then fade. Footsteps fade in then out. Farm sounds up, fade and hold under conversation. These SFX take about 8-10 seconds.

MUSYOKA:
This is my one-acre farm where I grow cassava and a few other crops.

HOST:
I see some vegetables and pigeon peas growing in between the cassava.

MUSYOKA:
Yes. In fact, cowpeas and other legumes like pigeon peas release nutrients into the soil.

HOST:
Please give me a step-by-step description of how you grow cassava.

MUSYOKA:
You need cuttings of the improved cassava plant that is drought-resistant, because with the KARI variety, you are assured of a harvest in seven to nine months. You should plant it at the beginning of the rainy season so that it can sprout before the dry season begins. Sprouting before the dry season helps the plant to withstand pest and disease attacks.

HOST:
Let us talk about the cuttings. How big should they be?

MUSYOKA:
Five to seven inches long with around six to eight nodes. Right, Makau?

MAKAU:
That’s correct. But if you are late in planting during the rainy season, you can make the cuttings slightly longer. Then, even if both ends of the cutting are eaten by pests, you will still have a bit of the cutting remaining. Also, plant it in the ground at a 45 degree angle and one metre apart from the next cassava plant. That’s about the distance between your feet and your waist, or twice the distance between the bottom of your foot and the middle of your knee.

HOST:
What if you are planting it with other crops, as you have done, Musyoka?

MUSYOKA:
For intercropping, you will need a bit more space between plants to accommodate the cassava tuber as it branches, and also for the other crops to grow well.

HOST:
I know I can eat the cassava tuber. But what do you do with the rest of the plant after harvest?

MAKAU:
With the new variety of cassava, nothing goes to waste, unlike our traditional variety that was poisonous to animals and the leaves could not be eaten. We eat the leaves as vegetables, and the tuber as a starch. We use some stem cuttings to grow more cassava, and we sell the rest of the stem cuttings to farmers who want to grow cassava. We also feed the leaves and the tubers to cattle and chickens.

MUSYOKA:
Now we also add value to our cassava. There is a market for it from the livestock feed industry.

HOST:
And how do you add value to the cassava?

MAKAU:
We chip the cassava into small pieces and dry it in the sun for about a week after harvesting. Then it last for up to eight or nine months. We also sell it to the livestock feed industry as dried chips. We usually get a good price when we sell it as a group.

We also mill the chips into flour. We sell the flour or mix it with other flours and make porridge or donuts for sale. We get a little money as a group when we do this. We also make cassava chips and sell to schoolchildren.

HOST:
Are people changing their attitude towards cassava now that you are adding value?

MUSYOKA:
It has taken a while, but slowly people are changing. My children enjoy cassava donuts and chips, and they appreciate that growing cassava helps feed and clothe them and pay their school fees. And that was not the case some years ago. It is the older generation that has taken a while to change. But right now, we are seeing more and more people coming to us and asking for the flour. Especially since they can also see it in the supermarkets.

MAKAU:
Even the women are now using cassava more since they have discovered their children do not have to go hungry because there is a cheaper alternative to maize flour.

Fade up farm sounds, then fade out.

HOST:
That was David Makau and Joseph Musyoka, cassava farmers in eastern Kenya and members of the Mitaboni farmers group. We will take a short break to hear a song about cassava. When we come back, we will hear from Julius Mburu from Farm Concern International, who will talk about demand for cassava from the livestock industry.

SFX:
Play traditional or contemporary music that talks about cassava. You could ask a local group to record the music for you. If you do not have suitable music, please go directly to the next interview.

HOST:
That was beautiful music by the women of Mitaboni women’s group as they prepare cassava and donuts for sale. (Editor’s note: Modify the previous sentence as needed.)

We are talking about the value of cassava, a crop that was once known as the poor man’s food. I visited a farmer group in the Eastern Province. The farmers grow cassava individually in their small farms and they collectively sell cassava and its products to local consumers and to the livestock feed industry. Here is Julius Mburu from Farm Concern International.

MBURU:
The demand for cassava is high because maize and wheat are too expensive. The animal feed and the food industry are now substituting them with cassava for livestock feed and human food. And now we have more people eating cassava or using it as flour.

HOST:
How does Farm Concern help farmers?

MBURU:
We provide equipment for chipping and drying for farmers who organize themselves into groups of over a hundred. We also link the farmers with the market for dried cassava by negotiating with the livestock feed industry.

HOST:
Do you teach the farmers how to preserve and process the cassava?

MBURU:
Yes, the farmers who are working with us know that potassium cyanide is high in cassava but can easily be managed through processing. So they reduce the cyanide by cutting and drying it immediately after it is harvested. We also teach them basic bookkeeping.

HOST:
And what do you see in the future for cassava?

MBURU:
Cassava has a lot of potential. In addition to the livestock industry, we are looking at the paper industry and the glue industry.

HOST:
Julius Mburu of Farm Concern brings us to the end of our program today. We have heard from farmers Margaret Nduko, David Makau, and Joseph Musyoka. They all grow cassava in their small farms and are able to feed their families and also sell cassava and its products as a group. They no longer go hungry or wait for food aid during the dry season.

I hope you have learnt something new today. Thank you for listening. I am ____, saying goodbye.

Acknowledgements

Contributed by: Winnie Onyimbo, Transworld Radio, Nairobi, Kenya.

Reviewed by: Mburu Julius, Programmes Manager, Commercialization and Farming Systems, Farm Concern International, Nairobi, Kenya.

Information Sources

Interviews with:

Margaret Nduko, farmer and women’s representative in Mitaboni women’s group, Kathiani, Eastern Province, Kenya

David Makau, chair of the Mitaboni farmers group and a cassava farmer in Kathiani, Eastern Province, Kenya

Joseph Musyoka, farmer in Kathiani, Eastern Province, Kenya

Julius Mburu, Programmes Manager, Commercialization and Farming Systems, Farm Concern International.

All interviews conducted on March 22, 2013

 

For further information on cassava, see the issue pack in this Farm Radio Resource Pack.