Boosting rice farming and tackling food insecurity in Western Kenya

Collage of white rice. PHOTO/Minimalistbaker.
  • Usonga is primarily inhabited by full-time rice farmers and is one of the government-targeted zones for improved rice farming.
  • Modern farming techniques can enable farmers to earn handsome profits from rice proceeds.
  • Innovation and sustainable methodologies can improve Kenya’s rice production.

By Joannes Achero

Rice is Kenya’s second-most staple food, with Ugali being the most common food in major households.

However, over 90 per cent of the product is being imported from Asian countries and neighbouring Tanzania even as the government takes action to boost local production.

According to Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, only 11%, accounting for about 70,000 metric tonnes of rice is produced locally, forcing the country to import over 600,000 metric tonnes of the remaining product.

To curb this disparity, the National Irrigation Authority, International Rice Research Institute, Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service, and Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization held a one-day sensitization program in Usonga to enlighten the local farmers on how to best produce rice.

“This overreliance on importation not only strains the nation’s economy but also places it at the forefront of the East African Community’s import bill,” Daniel Menge, a lead researcher at the International Rice Research Institute commented.

Rice stakeholders from Busia and Siaya counties viewing the variety of rice at Usonga Irrigation Scheme demonstration farm. PHOTO/Joannes Achero.

Specific target zones

Usonga is primarily inhabited by full-time rice farmers and is one of the government-targeted zones for improved rice farming.

Through improving the quality of agricultural inputs and produce, stakeholders believe sustainable agriculture and economic growth can be achieved with these zones put at the forefront.

With this, they raised a plan to upscale the adoption of improved high-yielding rice varieties and climate-smart agronomy for increased productivity, income generation, and food security in Siaya County.

A move that was welcomed by the rice farmers operating at the 1,600-acre farms at Muluwa’s feeder four in upper Alego Usonga as they exuded confidence in the plan.

Furthermore, embracing this modern farming technique will also enable them to earn handsome profits from the rice proceeds.

Taking the farmers through the training process, Siaya County Director of Agriculture, Isaac Munyendo urged the farmers at Usonga to discard the old and manual harvesting techniques as they had been overtaken by events and instead embrace the new mechanized method for maximum profit margin.

“Promotion of sustainable agricultural practices is imperative. This entails the provision of irrigation systems, mechanization initiatives, and the dissemination of knowledge on best agricultural practices.

By embracing innovation and sustainable methodologies, Kenya can harness its rice cultivation potential, thereby bolstering food security, reducing import dependency, and fostering economic growth,” he commented.

Traditionally, rice cultivation in Kenya has relied on the labour-intensive, water-intensive, and environmentally detrimental puddled and transplanted rice (PTR) system.

However, the adoption of direct seed rice (DSR) technology presents a promising alternative.

DSR offers a streamlined approach to rice cultivation, characterized by reduced crop growth periods and intermittent irrigation, mitigating the challenges associated with the PTR system.

Embracing DSR entails implementing a suite of agronomic practices tailored to the local context, including the cultivation of varieties with desirable traits and efficient weed and water management strategies.

According to Munyendo, the rice milling plant at Muluwa’s feeder for rice farms jointly managed by the Busia and Siaya county governments has benefited the local community, especially the unemployed youths.

At the same time, he underscored the importance of the milling plant, pointing out that the rice husks can be used as fish feed, hence benefiting the respective rice farmers.

He further urged the rice farmers to increase the acreage under rice production so that they could be in a position to generate more income and improve their livelihood.

Rice farmers’ leader Michael Congo, who represented the regional coordinator, assured the team that plans are underway to increase the acreage from the current 3,000 to 15,000 acres.

“Achieving this target necessitates a multifaceted approach encompassing expanded acreage, heightened productivity, precise data management, and the widespread adoption of advanced agricultural technologies.

Paramount to the program’s success is the dissemination of high-yielding, climate-smart rice varieties to supplant the current low-yielding strains preferred by farmers,” he added.

He warned farmers against the use of ammonium sulphate fertilizer, wishing that they would embrace organic farm input.

Currently, UREA is not recommended owing to its high evaporation rate and scorching effect.

How farmers can boost rice productions

Even as the stakeholders urged collaboration between government agencies, research institutions, and agricultural players, there are many other ways famers can ensure self-sufficiency in rice production.

To avoid huge losses due to the spillage of rice during harvesting, the rice farmers were urged to use combined harvesters instead of the manual system.

Komboka variety of rice also came out as the best for the region due to its high yield.

Farmers should embrace the treatment of rice nurseries to eradicate diseases, ensuring the application of non-selective herbicides two weeks before planting.

Despite its ability to strengthen the roots and stems, farmers should avoid applying DAP fertilizer to the rice nursery since it has a severe scorching effect that can burn the rice seedlings, and if need be, they should only input a standard rate of 50 kg per acre.

Closing the training session, Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service representative Elizabeth Magero affirmed her organization’s key role in ensuring the improvement of the value of Kenya’s rice through the accessibility of high-quality seeds.

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She also sent a caution to the rice farmers against borrowing varieties from fellow farmers as it can lead to the possible spread of different farm diseases, urging them to get seeds from certified suppliers or government agencies.

Rice stakeholders during the sensitization forum at Muluwa Rice Scheme in Siaya County. PHOTO/Joannes Achero.
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