KENYA – According to data from the Agriculture and Food Authority (AFA),  90 percent of wheat consumed in Kenya is imported, of which over 60%  comes from mainly Russia and Ukraine.

Following the crisis in the two warring nations, the country is currently experiencing a shortage, leading to a spike in the prices of the commodity heavily used in the baking industry.

The current national annual wheat consumption is 24 million bags against an annual production of about two million. Kenya’s key wheat-growing zones are Narok, Nakuru, Uasin Gishu, Trans Nzoia, Meru, and Laikipia.

The Economic Survey 2022 indicates that wheat production decreased by 39.4 percent from 405,000 thousand tonnes in 2020 to 245,300 thousand tonnes in 2021. The projected import of wheat target was 2.7 million tonnes for the 2021-22 financial year.

Overhauling such reliance on imports would mean either the country should focus more on climate-smart and sustainable agriculture or look for alternatives that serve the same purpose, like wheat.

Taking the second consideration, in Kenya, farmers grow cassava in over 90,000 ha with an annual production of about 540,000 tons. According to 2014 data by FAO, Kenya’s annual cassava fresh root production is estimated at 662,405 tons, against an estimated annual demand of 301,200 tons of dried cassava and 1,204,800 metric tons of fresh roots.

 Cassava (Manihot esculenta) is a starchy root crop of the spurge family, Euphorbiaceae, and one of sub-Saharan Africa’s most popular and widely consumed food crops.

Kenya has identified cassava as a good alternative or booster to rice and maize because it is a good source of carbohydrates. With the production of maize and rice going down due to climate change, cassava, which is resilient to drought, offers hope amid challenging times.

Dr. Francis Wayua, a food scientist and technologist at the Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO), said even as Kenya shifts to cassava, it must embrace climate-smart technologies to curb losses during production and after harvest.

These include targeting the right harvest time, planting cuttings resistant to pests and diseases, and appropriate harvesting and storage technologies.

Keen on the value addition to curbing the deficit of wheat flour in the Kenyan market, manioc or (cassava) flour is a gluten-free type of flours trying to enter the market but not adopted fully.

Being gluten-free means they are also suitable for people who are allergic to the protein found in wheat, barley, rye, and triticale (a cross between wheat and rye).

Raw cassava contains approximately 60% water, 38% carbohydrates, 1% protein, and negligible fat. The protein content can be increased by incorporating tender leaves of the crop, which contain up to 25 percent on a dry matter basis, and is a valuable source of iron, calcium, and vitamins A and C3, according to Save and Grow publication by FAO, to the milling of the cassava roots.

The guide to sustainable production intensification of cassava publication adds that essential amino acid content of cassava leaf protein is similar to that found in a hen’s egg.

The properties of cassava flour are comparably similar to those of wheat flour and therefore cassava flour can partially substitute wheat flour in many wheat-based products.

High-quality cassava flour (HQCF) is cassava flour that has not been fermented and can be used as an alternative to wheat flour and other starches in bread and confectionery.

This is because the flour has a wheat-like consistency and does not need extra binding ingredients like eggs.

The processing of cassava roots into HQCF involves peeling, washing, grating, pressing, disintegration, sifting, drying, milling, screening, packaging, and storage. Usually, one ton of cassava flour is obtained from four tons of fresh cassava roots.

Although markets for unfermented high-quality cassava flour are emerging in sub-Saharan Africa, the challenge is linking them to large numbers of small-scale growers whose output is highly variable in quality.

Consequently, the application of cassava flour in bakery production has technical challenges because of its low diastatic activity due to its deficiency in gluten and sulfur‐containing amino acids. However, this can be improved by addition of hydrophilic colloids to the formulation, only if necessary.

Aside from being an excellent gluten-free flour substitute, cassava flour is loaded with lots of health benefits, that include:

Strengthens immunity; Folate and vitamin C, both found in plenty in cassava leaves, are very good for the body’s immune system. Vitamin C helps the immune system by attacking the nucleus of viruses and bacteria, rendering them dead. It also maintains bone health. It is also a good antioxidant that eliminates free radicals in the body.

Contains resistant starch; Cassava is a good source of resistant starch that mimics soluble fiber properties. Consuming an adequate amount of resistant starch improves blood sugar control and supports gut health. In addition, studies suggest that the resistant starch present in cassava nurtures beneficial gut bacteria. Cassava starch converts into butyrate fatty acid during digestion, reducing colon inflammation and boosting its defense mechanisms. A healthy gut and colon bring down the risk of colorectal cancer.

Weight loss; Because it is rich in dietary fiber, cassava can make you feel full for a longer time. Thus, reducing the need to constantly snack on food to suppress weight gain.

In addition, cassava can be used in the manufacture of other products such as alcohol, animal feed, and pharmaceutical industries. In advanced technologies, the crop is an important base in the manufacture of plywood, paper, textiles, and the production of fuel ethanol.

Cassava’s gluten-free carbohydrate source can also be used as a fat replacer in meat analogs, a trend that is really on the rise. Its modified forms can be used to encapsulate active ingredients and can be made into edible or biodegradable food packaging materials.

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