Dried cassava (Manihot esculenta) is a traditional processed food of the Luhya people living in Western Kenya, particularly in Busia County. It is produced using locally grown cassava, especially the bitter varieties. This crop is drought resistant and well adapted to the climate conditions of the area. The bulk of cassava produced in the region is used for human consumption and surpluses are processed into starch or used for animal feed. Through dehydration, local farmers can preserve the cassava roots and at the same time detoxify them (bitter cassava contains cyanogenic compounds) and improve their otherwise-bitter taste. Dried cassava roots can be kept for several years. To make Busia dried cassava, the tubers are peeled, washed, and sun dried for about 6 hours to get rid of excess moisture. The semi-dried roots are then piled in a corner of the kitchen and covered with a sack for a period of 3-5 days. Any mold that forms during this period is scrapped off with a blunt knife. Next, the roots are put on a clean floor and crushed with a stone into big, soft pieces, which are then sun dried for a period of 12-14 hours.
Cassava is an important staple food in Busia County and the dried tubers have always been an important resource during famine periods. Cassava production involves both men and women in the local communities: Men take care of the cultivation while women have the duty to peel, cut, and dry the roots. Dried cassava is a primary ingredient in different local recipes: It is mixed with sorghum, finger millet, or maize and milled into flour. They can also be milled into flour without any cereal. The flour is added to boiling water and stirred until it cooks into either ugali (thick porridge) or uji (light porridge). Uji is a beverage while ugali is served with fish, meat, or leafy green vegetables. Dried cassava roots are prepared both for home consumption and to sell. Women sell them directly in the local markets and traders sell them across Kenya, especially in the northern and western parts of the country. This product represents an important economic resource for the rural families of Busia County.
The method used in Busia for drying/detoxifying cassava is more labor intensive that many other traditional processing techniques, such as simply boiling cassava (which is less effective as a detoxification method) or cutting the roots into chips for drying and milling. The conservation of this traditional product is at risk for several reasons: On the one hand, changing eating habits have caused people to turn away from dried cassava in favor of foods that are deemed healthier. On the other hand, the presence of industrial flours on the market (often cheaper than the traditional ones) makes the commercialization of this product difficult.