The Status of Rice Farming in Kenya
By Wycliffe Nyawade and Justus Ndichu
Rice, the third most popular staple food among Kenyans is also a common delicacy for nearly half of the world’s population. Speaking to The Chamwada Report, Dr. James Nyoro, a food security expert says that Kenya’s rice consumption rate is growing at 11% per year, compared to maize at 3% and wheat at 6 %.
About 95% of Kenya’s rice is grown under irrigation in the paddy rice schemes across the country. The bulk of rice produced in Kenya comes from Mwea irrigation scheme in Kirinyaga County. The Scheme produces about 1 million bags per year.
Innocent Ariemba, The Mwea Irrigation Scheme manager says, that the scheme currently has 7000 farmers.
Other rice schemes in Kenya include Ahero and West Kano Plains in Kisumu County, Pekerra in Baringo, Bunyala in Busia and Yala Swamp Irrigation Scheme in Siaya County. “Mwea Scheme produces 3 direct and 2 indirect jobs per acre.” Says Ariemba.
However, imports are the biggest threat to Kenya’s rice yet Kenya has the potential to produce enough for her consumption, and even surplus for export. Dr. Nyoro adds that Kenya only produces 30% of the total rice consumed, with the rest of 70% coming from imports, translating to and expenditure of 15-20 billion shillings annually!
Eunice Wairimu, a farmer in the Mwea Scheme tells the Chamwada Report that she fends for her family entirely from the proceeds she gets from her farm. It is also rice farming that has transformed the urban centers in Mwea like Wang’uru town.
Rice takes about four to five months to mature. The farmer eventually may not be paid immediately after selling the produce, but others in the value chain get instant profits. “One of the challenges of rice farming here is that prices are inconsistent.” Laments Micheck Maina, a farmer in the Mwea Scheme.
Farmers may not have such a strong voice to influence the value chain to their favor, all depends largely on policy makers, and how the policies are implemented and enforced. Maina says that although middlemen buy the rice at only sh.4000 for a bag of 100 kilograms, farmers have no choice other than to sell at that price since that’s their only source of income.
Water shortage, poses yet another threat to rice farming in Mwea. “Insufficient water supply poses many challenges to rice farming. Like in this season, we expect low yields since we have not had enough water, we cannot also apply fertilizer, and we will also spend more money at the time of weeding because weeds reproduce when there is little water on the farms.” Maina tells us.
The National Irrigation Board has a plan to construct a dam along river Thiba, One of the rivers that feed Mwea Irrigation Scheme. Construction of the dam is yet to begin as at the moment. The Process of compensating at least 700 families to be relocated to pave the way for the construction of the dam is in its final stages.
In May this year Water and Irrigation Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa, while presiding over issuance of title deeds to the affected families reiterated the need to reduce imports in the rice sector.
Dr. Nyoro indicates that emphasis should be put on mechanization and provision of incentives to the farmers.
The show that aired on KTN News Channel elicited much debate on social media with more interactions on twitter under the #RiceFarmingKe. Nevertheless, Kenyans still remain optimistic that the rice sector will be revamped with the recent partnership between the Kenyan and Japanese governments in enhancing mechanization.