Rice farmers in Mwea have a reason to smile following the introduction of hybrid rice that matures early and yields more.
Some 400 acres have been planted with the rice and true to experts’ words, the crop is already growing faster than the traditional rice.
African Agricultural Technology Foundation (ATTF) has been collaborating with Kenya Agricultural Research and Livestock Organization (KALRO) in Mwea in the development of the new hybrid rice.
Kayonde Sanni, the project manager at ATTF said they were supportive of the President’s big four agenda on food security.
“Our objective is to achieve prosperity for the farmers through technology as will be evidenced through the hybrid rice,” he said.
He said there is greater need for the adoption of the technology in order to increase rice production in Kenya and in Africa as a whole.
Kayonde said the level of rice consumption in Kenya stands at 650,000 tons compared to the production which is at 150,000 tons. As a result, the deficit is met by the importation of 500,000 tons of rice yearly.
He said there is a big opportunity for employment in the increased production of rice in Kenya and in the global market.
Dr. Kayonde said production of rice in Kenya stands at 2 tons per hectare as compared to the global production of 4.3 tons per hectare, thus the deficiency of rice in the country
He said consumption of rice has increased by 13 per cent while productivity grew by only 3 per cent and hence the need to jumpstart rice production in the country.
“The development of the hybrid rice involves bringing two different types of rice together to triple productivity,” Dr Kayonde said.
Dr. Kayonde said there is need for private sector investment in seed rice production and the government should create a conducive environment in order for the same to flourish.
“International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) is taking charge of production of hybrid rice creating a synergy to help promote farmers to get the best technology.”
He said there are plans to launch an alliance of different stake holders interested in rice seed production in Kenya.
“Adoption of hybrid rice will enhance income for the farmers besides creating the much desired job opportunities for the youth in Kenya,” he said.
The hybrid project has already engaged 25 people who are on full time employment to deal with the challenge of inadequacy of information being availed to the farmers.
“This is why it is important for the government to create an environment to make private sector invest in agriculture,” Dr. Kayonde said.
The national rice performance trials that started 10 years ago have managed to come up with five types of hybrid seed which will be availed to the farmers by the end of this year.
“It is going to be an economic booster since the hybrid rice has been proven to yield three times more than the traditional rice.”
Dr. Kimani the KARLO centre director at Kimbimbi in Mwea said the development of the rice is the culmination of a long journey which started in 2013.
He said if farmers fully adopt the new rice variety they will be able to meet the deficit and reduce importation of rice from Pakistan and other far eastern countries.
“The reason the growth in consumption is higher than production is due to improved livelihood, rural urban migration and rice being food for the elite as compared to cassava known as a poor man’s food,” he said.
Dr. Kimani said the new rice variety apart for improved yield and early maturing is also better in the resistance to diseases and pests.
He said by 2030, Kenya should be able to produce enough rice to cut down the importation of the commodity to the country.
Dr Kimani said they have retained some of the old traits in the traditional rice variety like the aroma as the bench mark for the new hybrid rice.
“We retrogressed some of the traits of our Basmati 370 with the new hybrid rice to ensure we retain the aroma associated with the Mwea rice and to make it acceptable to the farmers” Kimani said.
He said in ten years’ time the hybrid rice will have completely replaced the local traces of the rice grown in Mwea.
The most popular brand of rice grown in Mwea at the moment is Basmati 370 with 80 per cent market share followed by Basmati 217.
By Irungu Mwangi