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Dryland arrow roots farming becomes better side hustle for teacher

By KIMURI MWANGI
Francis Maathai explains how dryland arrowroots are grown during an agricultural exhibition. PHOTO: KIMURI MWANGI.

When he is not in class teaching, Francis Maathai can easily be found at his Modern Tech Nurseries tending to his dryland arrow roots or dealing with clients. A teacher by profession, Maathai says he came across the dryland arrowroot variety in May 2017 and since then he specialises in it at his nursery.

The Primary School teacher from Ndundori Centre in Nakuru County says he attended a farmers’ open day at Thika where he came across a farmer who was selling planting materials and he got interested.

“I listened to her as she explained about the dry land arrowroot, Dasheen variety which originated from Rwanda and I was hooked. What I liked most about the variety is that it is not a must you plant it where there is water like other varieties. It does well also where there is a shortage of rain or water hence it is a good plant that can help us achieve food security. I bought some planting materials and I planted them in a quarter acre farm,” says Maathai.

The arrowroot variety bears long tubers measuring up to 70 centimeters and it is heavier than others, therefore, making it popular among business people and even consumers. Maathai says he managed to produce tubers weighing five kilograms. It is ready for harvesting after six months, unlike others which take nine months. After planting on his farm, he got inquiries from many people who wanted planting materials and he could not meet the demand. That is when he decided to concentrate on producing planting material and established a nursery for that purpose.

“Apart from the demand, the fact that you can plant it anywhere made it easy for me to produce suckers for sale. After every two and a half months, one plant gives me ten suckers which I sell for Sh10 each. Therefore, I earn Kshs500 from every plant after two and a half months. It is equally rewarding to those who plant it as one acre has the ability to produce 3 tonnes. If you sell at the current price of Kshs100 per kilogram, you will earn 300,000 shillings after six months,” says Maathai.

According to the farmer, those who buy from him have the advantage of producing their own suckers for expanding their farms. After harvesting one also plants the sucker again and according to him the many times you plant a sucker, the bigger the tuber it produces. So, how has he managed to get more clients?

“I attend all agricultural shows in the country and also farmers’ open days and agricultural exhibitions where I meet new clients. Others have also been referred to me by people who bought from me earlier. There are also those who want to expand their arrowroots farms and they believe my suckers are better than theirs and they come back for more,” quips Maathai.

The arrowroot farmer says the returns have been encouraging and he gets satisfaction from clients who tell him they are also earning from their farms. He cites some achievements like establishing his nursery and the quarter-acre he has under arrowroots especially because he has rented the land.

“In the three years, I have practiced this kind of agribusiness I can’t regret. I have been able to complement the salary from my teaching profession. I have also managed to buy one acre of land in Nyandarua County which I plan to put under arrowroots as well as expand my suckers’ production venture.

“I would recommend this to any farmer out there as you only use animal manure to plant and you don’t need any chemicals or fertilizer. You just mix the manure with some ash to give it the much-needed minerals. You then apply mulching to maintain the moisture in the soil and you are done. Therefore, you don’t need a lot of capital to start and the returns are high,” says Maathai.

His future plans include expanding his nursery to include other plants and also acquire a bigger piece of land. “I urge the youth to enter into agribusiness. If you visit supermarkets these days, the food section is getting bigger and we need more young farmers to enter into food production,” he says.

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