The neighbourhood of Tangakona on the Busia-Mumias road is dotted with fields of cassava, sweet potato and sugarcane.
Its proximity to Uganda makes Tangakona a good environment for small and medium businesses.
It is here that we find Catherine Otaga and her husband Samson Kandera. They are at a cassava aggregation centre supervising workers unload sacks of fresh produce for chopping.
“The complex was built by local farmers, who are the shareholders. It has a receiving area, a modern processor and a store,” Otaga says.
The two are also among the farmers who founded Apmart Tangakona, an enterprise that deals in value-added cassava products namely dried chips, plain flour, blended sorghum-cassava flour, blended finger millet-cassava flour and sweet potato and cassava crackles.
The self-help group started in 1999. Members took the decision to form a commercial village in 2009 after being advised by the Agriculture office in Nambale to register as a Community Based Organisation.
The group began multiplying seedlings at a nursery and then bulked them for distribution to locals.
“We were 56 farmers when we started planting after getting certified seeds from the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation,” Otaga says, adding that the business has grown and is now working with almost 3,000 farmers.
The concept of value-addition began in 2010 when Otaga visited Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology in Juja for a two-month course in product development.
To diversify and capture a bigger market, an NGO called Techno Serve introduced the group to the Kenya Bureau of Standards for certification of its products. It trained group members on food safety.
The group pumped Sh50,000 into the project, with the money being used to set up a store for cassava. Self-Help Africa, Kenya Crops and Marketing Systems and the Busia devolved government helped the CBO buy a miller, a chipping machine and a solar drier.
“The drier comprises 12 trays of three storeys each. It can hold 250 kilogrammes of chopped cassava. Production is two times a week,” Kandera says.
Group chairman, Maurice Olaba, says the cassava comes from contracted farmers in Busia, Kakamega and Siaya counties. A kilo is bought for Sh10.
Once the produce is received, it is sorted, weighed and resorted. It is then washed, peeled and placed in a chipping machine. From there, it is taken to the drier for 72 hours.
Four kilos of fresh cassava give a kilo of dried cassava. When demand is high, the group produces six tonnes a week.
Most of the buyers are from the neighbourhood. Referrals can be from as far as Nairobi, Meru and Kakamega.
Olaba says a kilo of dried cassava chips goes for Sh60, plain cassava flour (Sh100), blended sorghum and cassava flour (Sh1,200 and blended finger millet cassava flour is Sh140.
To market its products, Apmart Tangakona makes use of social media.
Most farmers still plant indigenous cassava that is susceptible to pests and diseases.
Otaga, Kandera and Olaba advise those interested in such a venture to follow guidelines in extension manuals and seek advice from agronomists.
Apmart Tangakona’s dream? To attain the required global standards and export its products.
Dominic Kimani, an Agribusiness expert, says farmers need to ensure their cassava cuttings are disease-free.
The best cassava varieties are picked according to climate and soil, though the plant can do well in poor soils