Mwea rice farmers enjoy good prices, urge imports delay 

A woman spreads paddy at Mwea Rice Growers Multipurpose Cooperative Society stores in Wang’uru, Kirinyaga County

A woman spreads paddy at Mwea Rice Growers Multipurpose Cooperative Society stores in Wang’uru, Kirinyaga County in June 2021. Rice farmers in the area have asked the government to delay rice imports as they clear their stocks. 

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Mwea rice farmers are worried over government plans to import rice, a move they said would flood the market.

While demanding the shelving of the plan to import milled rice, the growers said the government should wait until they sell all the 300,000 bags of rice they have in stores.

Led by Mwea Rice Growers Multi-purpose Cooperative Society Chairman Ndege Muriuki, the farmers said the imports will subject them to unfair business competition.

“We have not yet finished selling the rice in our possession and shall suffer if the state allows in imported rice,” said Mr Muriuki.

The farmers said they depend on rice for survival and therefore the imports would hurt them.

“We are opposed to plans by the government to import rice, at the moment the prices are good and our market should not be interfered with,” Mary Wanjiru, a farmer, said.

Currently, the Kenya National Trading Corporation is purchasing rice from farmers.

“The government is doing a good job of buying rice from us but it should not allow the imported commodity if it means well for us,” said Mr Muriuki.

Farmers in Ngurubani town said the price of rice has gone up due to high demand in the local market and they expect to break even in the absence of cheap imports.

“Should the state permit imports, then the local market will be flooded with cheap rice and this will force us to sell our produce at throwaway prices,” said Mr Muriuki.

They asked the government to wait until after April when they expect to have sold all their rice.

“Farm inputs were very expensive and for us to get good returns, we should be given a chance to continue offering our unprocessed rice at Sh95 per kilogramme,” said Mr Simon Njogu, a farmer.

However, rice traders said there was nothing wrong with imported rice. They said farmers should not have a monopoly of the market to avoid exploitation.

“We also want to remain in business; imported rice helps us to carry out good business and the farmers should not reject it,” Mr Joseph Karani, a trader, said.

The traders urged the farmers to stop piling pressure on the government to shelve plans to import rice.

“Farmers do not produce adequate rice and they should not dictate to the government on what to do,” Mr John Njomo said.

"Misleading public"

Contacted for comment, Trade Cabinet Secretary Moses Kuria accused the cooperative society management of misleading the public.

“We told the cooperative to sell all the rice to Kenya National Trading Corporation but they have hoarded some of it, then they start claiming that there is rice lying idle, these are crooks,” he said. “The cooperative society management is not sincere and from now on I will be dealing with the Governor Anne Waiguru when it comes to buying rice from farmers.”

The government is hoping that the imported rice will ensure the country has adequate stock to last until the next harvest, even as the country faces a food crisis following a severe drought.

“Despite the harsh weather, the farmers managed to produce a substantial amount of rice which they are trading in,” said Mr Muriuki. With the next growing season set to kick off in June, he said the farmers are prepared to grow more rice. He asked the government to avail subsidised fertilisers on time to avoid planting delays.

“If farmers are well motivated, they can produce enough rice for the entire country’s population and stop relying on imports,” stated Mr Muriuki.

The country produces 114 tonnes of rice annually, which is not enough for local consumption. With the construction of the multi-billion Thiba dam, the government intends to double the production. On average Kenyans consume 720,000 tonnes of rice annually. It is estimated that this year Kenya will import 640,000 tonnes of rice to meet demand.

A spot check by the Nation in markets in Mwea indicated that traders were holding huge stocks of rice with a kilo of milled pishori fetching about Sh160.


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