Construction work at the Sh20 billion Thiba dam is on course with first December 2021 targeted as the completion date.
At completion, the dam is expected to provide water to Mwea irrigation scheme and ensure farming goes on throughout the year uninterrupted.
The project Engineer Stephen Mutinda said they were now concentrating on the construction of the dam wall having already diverted the river.
He said the diversion works currently stands at 84% and they were now embarking on the creation of the spill way which was at 18%
Mutinda said they were periodically carrying out water analysis to ensure minimal contamination of the water from the construction works.
“No water from the quarry is going back to the river directly as we have made reservoirs for the dirty water which we dispose elsewhere,” Mutinda said
Mutinda was speaking during a visit to the project by the Kirinyaga County Development Implementation and Coordination Committee (CDICC).
Kirinyaga County Commissioner Jim Njoka who chairs the committee said Thiba dam project was among a hundred projects identified by the government for monitoring.
He said it was important for the contractor to ensure he kept to the works’ timelines for the government to get value for the money being channeled to the project.
He said the government has provided enough money for the work progress and there was no budget challenge as witnessed in the past.
A temporally halt to the construction of the Dam had raised concern among the rice farmers who viewed the project as a major solution to water shortage in Mwea.
Njoka said the government is committed to ensuring the project moves within the scheduled time to enhance irrigation of rice in Mwea and improve of the country’s food security.
Data from the Kenya Bureau of Statistics shows that Kenya imports rice worth about Sh40 billion every year largely from Pakistan, Thailand, India and Vietnam
It is estimated that with the completion of Thiba dam, this amount would be reduced by half or even more if it succeeded in improving more water to allow for three seasons of rice per year, unlike the current one season.
National Irrigation Board Manager Innocent Ariemba says the current rice production during a good season is about 100,000 tonnes or about 80 percent which has been achieved without dedicated water flow.
The rice scheme is fed by direct water flow from Thiba and Nyamindi rivers without a dam.
Ariemba says Thiba dam would provide a holding ground for water, ensuring controlled flow even during the times of lower rainfall.
“This is planned to increase normal production by about 100 percent, meaning 140,000 tons and since the water will double overall area under rice, Mwea is set to produce about 280,000 tons,” he said.
The board manager says there is much more opportunity as by the time the dam is finished, ongoing research on better yielding rice is likely to have reached the farm level.
“Rice farms are also likely to be more mechanized by then. The storage of rice will have improved, eliminating post-harvest losses,” Ariemba noted.
He said more farmers would also be educated on modern farming methods to ensure that they harvest more bags of rice per acre than they currently do.
He said for instance, Kenya produces on average 4 tons of rice per 2.5 acres, Egypt produces double that at 8 tons while Vietnam produces 6 tons, same as china, Pakistan and India.
Exporters of rice into Kenya produce the same tonnage as Kenya, according to data aggregator index Muindi. It therefore means Kenya has a very big opportunity to become self-sufficient in rice if it could increase its yields per acre.
“The project will also help in the stabilization of the irrigation water supply, allowing double cropping with the area under irrigation increasing from 25,000 cares to 35,000 acres,” the official said
The construction of the Thiba dam is being financed in partnership with the Japanese government through Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).
At completion, the dam will be 40 meters tall and 1-kilometer-long and is expected to have a holding capacity of 15 million cubic meters.
The construction was initially expected to take 3 years and seven months, meaning it would have been through around July 2020.
Thiba dam project, officially launched on November 23 2017 by Presidents Uhuru Kenyatta, is being constructed at Rukenya in Gichugu constituency, about four kilometers from Kutus town, the County headquarters.
During the launch, the President directed that work be completed within the stipulated time.
Kenya produces 100,000 tons of rice annually which is not enough to meet the local demand of 500,000 tones.
By Dorris Wanyagia/Irungu Mwangi.