The Bunyala Rice Irrigation Scheme has improved the livelihoods of the local residents due to improved rice production.
According to the statistics obtainable from National Irrigation Authority that manages Bunyala Rice Scheme, the scheme produces more than 10,000 metric tonnes of rice per year, up from 5,500 tonnes, making it the second largest rice producer after the Mwea rice irrigation scheme.
This has been attributed to the introduction of two seasons that has almost doubled the output.
Teamwork between rice farmers and scheme management has also culminated in improving the yields.
Magombe Rice Cooperative Society Chairman Christopher Gunyi says rice farmers can now build better houses and pay school fees for their children.
The cooperative society, established in 1975 with a membership of only 534, is eventually rising to the current over 2,000 members forty-seven years later.
It has been supporting the rice farmers by providing them with various farm inputs and loan facilities that have enabled them to engage in active rice farming, improving their livelihoods.
“The economic status of the residents has greatly been improved due to rice farming. The national government has, through the National Irrigation Authority continued to support rice farming so as to ensure food security,” says Gunyi.
However, rice farmers have always been discouraged from selling unprocessed rice since they can make a lot of money from rice husks used to produce poultry feed, fish feed and fuel for domestic use, among others.
“The farmers are currently reaping big from the sale of rice husks which they sell in large quantities to those engaging in poultry keeping and fish farming,” says the cooperative society chairman.
The County Government of Busia has rehabilitated the rural access roads, culverts and the drainage system at the rice scheme to ensure easy transportation and free water flow in the canals.
Owing to the benefits the members of the Magombe Cooperative Society have derived from the outfit, a large number of rice farmers have joined the society.
Hellen Nabalayo, one of the managers of Phases Three and Four in the Ruambwa/Mudembi Rice Irrigation Scheme, says there is a need to prioritize rice grown by local farmers to encourage them to double their effort and produce more rice.
She notes that rice farmers from Budalangi have always been forced to sell their rice at low prices in Uganda because the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) is yet to start buying rice from Bunyala Rice Scheme.
“Currently, majority of rice farmers from Magombe and Ruambwa/ Mudembi irrigation schemes are usually compelled to seek for clients from a neighbouring country at a cheaper price because the National Cereals and Produce Board has not effected any plans to purchase their rice,” says Ms. Nabalayo.
Nabalayo discourages rice farmers from leasing their land but instead, use it to produce their own rice and earn income for self-sustenance.
Bunyala rice irrigation scheme has the potential to become the food basket of the entire western region, hence the need to double their efforts.
The potential can only be realized if the rice farmers are provided with farm inputs that would improve the yields.
One of the key challenges rice farmers in Bunyala have been grappling with for a long time is the lack of a rice milling plant.
The farmers have had no option but to hire trucks to transport their rice crop to Kisumu, about 120 kilometers away, to have their rice processed.
“Hiring trucks to ferry our rice for processing in Kisumu is very costly and majority of us, in reality, cannot afford it.
We are therefore calling upon the two arms of the government (county and national government) to consider allocating the resources to facilitate the construction of a rice milling plant that would serve both Magombe and Ruambwa/Mudembi Irrigation Schemes,” said Abungu, one of the rice farmers.
Initially, rice farmers in Bunyala had been incurring huge losses due to the spillage of rice occasioned by the manual harvesting system.
However, they now have every reason to smile, following the provision of combine harvesters by the national government through the Ministry of Agriculture recently.
“The manual harvesting system had been in use for so many years. During all that time, I had been incurring huge loss due to spillage of rice. I had been losing ten bags of rice per acre, but following the arrival of combine harvesters, I am now reaping not less than 25 bags of rice per acre of rice farm,” confessed Hilary Onyango, a rice farmer from phase three in Ruambwa/Mudembi Irrigation Scheme.
Lack of rice dryer and storage facility
Rice farmers operating under Ruambwa/Mudembi irrigation scheme have also been incurring a mountain of challenges from a lack of rice dryers and a storage depot.
During the harvesting season, the rice farmers here are forced to hire motorbikes to ferry bags of harvested rice to their respective homes for drying.
This is a very costly affair considering that they are paying KSh 50 per bag.
“Farmers under this scheme are desperately in need of rice dryers and a storage depot where they can dry and eventually store their rice as they search for clients. Lack of the two key facilities has seen the rice farmers incurring huge losses due to dampness leading to sprouting that renders the rice worthless and a big loss to the farmers concerned,” says Dismas Oduory, a phase three official.
Apart from transforming the livelihoods of the local community engaging in large-scale rice farming, the majority of parents have been able to cater for the education of their children, unlike before when they used to rely on bursaries which were too few.
Everline Sakwa, a phase three rice farmer, says rice farming has enabled her to educate her two girls up to form four and one other, who sat for her Kenya Certificate of Primary Education exam in 2022, scoring 357 marks out of 500 and is set to join secondary school when schools reopen in 2023.
“Before I started rice farming, I depended on education bursary provided by the constituency office. However, this was too minute and inconsistent as there was no guarantee of getting the same every financial year,” explained Sakwa.
She added that her two girls would regularly be sent home for lack of school fees.
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However, the situation normalized when she took to active rice farming five years ago.
“Agriculture is the source of wealth, so I have no regrets for deciding to undertake rice farming because it has changed my life,” says the rice farmer.