How to grow arrow roots like a pro
The demand for arrowroot has been increasing rapidly over the years. As people shift to healthy foods, arrowroot have recorded good prices and increased consumption. The leafy perennial forms clumps that are 1.5m wide and grow up to 3m high. The tasty roots or rhizomes with a sweet, nutty flavor can be slow-roasted or boiled. Considering the high demand and good prices, arrowroot farming can be a lucrative agribusiness that you can invest in. However, before venturing into it, you need to understand the growing requirements of the crop, land preparation methods, the management practices you should employ, proper harvesting and post-harvesting methods, and market insights. This article helps you understand how to plant, care, harvest, and market your arrowroot.
Like other crops, land preparation is an essential aspect of arrowroot farming. You need to identify a fertile portion of land. Plough the land and dig a deep trench with a depth of 60cm and a width of 1m. If possible, you can put a large gauged polythene paper to prevent seepage, although it’s not a must.
Next, mix soil and manure at a rate of 2:1 and put the mixture in the trench. Ensure that the depth and soil type provide optimum root development conditions.
Arrow roots have few growing requirements and can grow in any place provided there is adequate moisture in the soil. However, they flourish in areas with uniformly distributed rainfall throughout the year and a soil pH of between 5.5 to 6.5. However, they can also thrive in drier areas with weekly irrigation.
Here are the best varieties that you should consider growing:
- San Pablo
- Tissue culture variety
- Indigenous variety
- Cuenca strain
After preparing the land and planting holes with a diameter of 1.5ft x 1 feet, you should then plant 4 tubers in each hole at a spacing of 20cm to 30cm. This gives the tubers enough pace to grow to the desired size.
Arrow roots are easy to plant and manage. They require proper irrigation to produce high-quality, sizable tubers. Mulch your plants to minimize water loss and weed growth.
Manure should be applied to enhance soil fertility and provide the plants with essential nutrients. Topdressing is also important and should be done two to three months after planting. A 50kg of 14.14.14 NPK should be enough for one acre. However, extensive use of inorganic fertilizers is not recommended.
Weeds can be pretty destructive in any garden and compete for water and nutrients with the plants. You should ensure that your arrowroot garden is weed-free throughout the growing season. Consistent weeding helps loosen the soil and creates the ideal conditions for the tubers to enlarge. However, you should avoid stepping on the trench to prevent the soil from compacting when weeding.
Although they are mainly not affected, you should employ a consistent pest and disease control program for optimum results. Arrow roots are susceptible to diseases such as bacterial wilt and mosaic, rust, leaf blight, leaf spot, and yellowing. They are attacked by pests such as pod borers, Army worms, grasshoppers, caterpillars, arrowroot butterflies, and leaf rollers.
Arrow roots take about 5 to 6 months to mature. During the final two months, you should not water the arrow roots to prevent rotting and enable the tubers to harden.
Arrow roots mature in 5 to 6 months, but they are ready for harvest 8 to 10 months after planting. At this time, the plant leaves turn yellow and stop growing. However, in some cases, to give the tubers a higher starch content of about 25%, the produce should be harvested after 10 – 12 months. Harvesting should be done using a fork jembe to help you pull the tuber. You should first soften the soil around to expose the tuberous roots.
In well-watered areas, you should harvest the tubers on time. If they overstay in the ground, they start retaining water, become spongy, and lose their distinct taste when cooked. One tuber produces an average of 6 to 10 suckers. Each tuber weighs between 2-5 kgs depending on the variety and management practices employed. A quarter-acre can produce approximately 5,000 kgs of arrow roots.
Arrowroot, or Nduma, tends to go bad quickly, although they can stay for up to 14 days in a refrigerator. You should peel and wash them properly before storing them.
The profitability of arrowroot farming depends on soil fertility, labor costs, farm location, and management practices. With the growing number of people switching to traditional foods, there is always a ready market for arrowroot. From a quarter-acre producing 5,000 kgs of arrow roots, a farmer can pocket between Kshs 250,000 to Kshs 300,000. This means it can be easy to fetch a million-plus from an acre. Isn’t this a lucrative venture?
The typical markets for arrow roots that you can target in Kenya include open-air markets, hotels, breakfast caterers, and wedding ceremonies. The market is still growing, given that they are used for value addition. For instance, they are processed into arrowroot flour, are used as a thickener in baking, and to make infant formula.