What you need to know:
- The biggest setback has been the high cost of production but with the presidential directive setting better local prices, the sub-sector is set to change for the better as net margins improve.
- Birds and mostly the quelea have been dominant in the rice fields due to the proximity of their natural habitat (swamps and riverine bushes).
- The presidential directive came in at the most desperate time in the rice sub-sector, where brokers and importers dictated prices and quality.
- Reducing or banning rice imports is not an immediate solution since our production is low as compare to consumption.
Joel Tanui is a senior scheme manager at the Ahero Research Station of the National Irrigation Authority (NIA) in Kisumu. Elizabeth Ojina spoke to him on why the crop is yet to change many farmers’ fortunes and the existing opportunities for growers
Kenya gets nearly all its rice from the Far East, specifically Pakistan, which accounts for 74 per cent of the total imports. With the high importation, is rice growing a profitable venture in the country?
It is a very profitable venture and still boosts of the highest net margins per hectare compared to other cereals.
The biggest setback has been the high cost of production but with the presidential directive setting better local prices, the sub-sector is set to change for the better as net margins improve.
As climate change effects unfold, rice farmers have found themselves battling quelea birds more regularly. What can be done to address the menace besides use of chemicals, which is discouraged?
Birds and mostly the quelea have been dominant in the rice fields due to the proximity of their natural habitat (swamps and riverine bushes).
Their numbers have tripled over the last four years due to abundance of food (grains) and limited control measures.
Our research department is currently testing acoustic stimuli methods, including motorised scaring devices as an alternative to chemical spraying.
As that continues, we are now cropping the schemes between July and February to avoid high birds’ seasons.
President Uhuru Kenyatta ordered government institutions like prisons to purchase rice from local farmers. Is this happening?
The presidential directive came in at the most desperate time in the rice sub-sector, where brokers and importers dictated prices and quality.
The directive has been taken up by all farmers and stakeholders. Kenya National Trading Corporation (KNTC) is currently buying milled rice from our cooperatives across all the schemes and paying promptly.
This is what was lacking before the directive. Prices are equally competitive with a kilo of unprocessed rice selling at Sh45 for Sindano and Sh85 for pishori.
Most rice farmers complain of poor prices, perhaps due to increase in imports. Is it time the government put a quota on the imports?
Reducing or banning rice imports is not an immediate solution since our production is low as compare to consumption.
We consume 600 metric tonnes (MT) per annum yet we produce 120MT. NIA continues to expand the area under rice irrigation, we hope with time the gap will reduce. We estimate that by 2030, Kenya will be rice sufficient.
What are the available options for farmers when it comes to value addition?
The government has provided great opportunities for farmers to add value to their rice through the presidential directive on purchase of local produce.
KNTC is currently buying rice and distributing to various government institutions. It only buys milled rice from farmers and not paddy as was the case earlier.
This has made farmers, through their cooperatives, add value to their produce, pack and sell a finished product.
Farmers are now accessing milling services from government-owned factories namely Western Kenya Rice Mills, Lake Basin Development Company, National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) and Mwea Rice Mills.
Apart from rice, are there any other crops farmers can grow at the schemes?
Yes, in 2016, we came up with crop intensification and diversification programmes across the schemes, with the aim of introducing alternative off season crops that can be planted after the main crop (rice) with the objective of utilising the schemes up to 200 per cent intensity.
This has picked well and farmers care currently growing seed maize, green grams, soya, sorghum and fresh vegetables.