Expansion of rice irrigation scheme to create employment of over 100,000 people

Kenya and Japan governments have introduced various measures to supplement the Thiba mega dam which when completed, will double rice production at the Mwea Irrigation scheme.

Currently, the scheme, established by the British Colonialists in 1956, produces an average of 80,000 metric tons during the yearly season.

The measures, including research of new varieties, water saving rice culture, proper crop husbandry, improved harvesting and storage, processing and marketing for profitability to the farmers, are all aimed at improving rice production as well as improve on the economic wellbeing of the farmers.

Already, through the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA), a Sh.90 million molecular laboratory has been set up at Kimbimbi Centre for the Kenya Agricultural Research and Livestock Organization (KARLO).

The operational laboratory is charged with the development of rice varieties that are drought resistant, cold weather tolerant, rice blast resistant and compatible to low soil fertility through molecular breeding.

The centre Manager, Dr. John Kimani said researchers have developed eight new rice varieties, which would upon going through the required field tests and adoptability process be released to the farmers.

Some people are only looking at the mega dam not realizing that behind the scenes, there other key partners working hard in readiness to improve the rice sector for the good of the farmers, once the dam is completed in the next three years, he said.

Kimani, who is also an industrial crop scientist, said the current varieties of rice introduced many years ago had reached a point of stagnation in terms of production.

Through JICA, farmers have also been introduced into Rice �based and Marketing Agriculture Promotion Project (Rice MAP).

This project involves dissemination of rice production knowledge and technologies to promote income sustainability for the rice farmers, according to the Project Manager, Eng. David Njogu.

This project not only aims at training the farmers on various irrigation methods and crop husbandry but also on modern line planting of the crop as opposed to the traditional random one in order to secure the appropriate plant population per the cultivated area, Njogu said.

Planting of the seedlings is done using the 30A�15 cm spacing and gives the farmer better yields than the random one, while filling of gaps was easier to ensure proper maintenance of proper crop population.

The technology also involves economic use of the water by flooding the paddies and them draining leaving the crop without the commodity for ten days until the soils start cracking.

JICA has also developed a push weeder which is used to clear an acre by two men in a day as opposed to the manual weeding where it takes eight men to weed an acre.

A JICA engineer attached to the project, Yuji Yunoki said before the introduction of the technology in 2013, the average yields per acre was only 23 bags which earned the farmers Sh80, 000 as compared to 2014 where farmers harvested 26 bags and earned Sh94, 000

As at now, a farmer is harvesting 30 bags per acre each weighing 100 kilogrammes and earning Sh.75.00 per kilogramme of paddy rice which translates to Sh225, 000 in a six month season not putting into account the ratoon crop which produces almost half of the main season, Yunoki said.

Ratoon is the second and later crops taken from the regrowth of crop after it has been harvested.

Yunoki also said the farmers were adopting on mechanized agriculture both in weeding, harvesting and threshing.

He said the mechanized harvesting by combine harvesters was quick and records minimal grain loss since both harvesting, threshing and bagging takes place simultaneously.

A farmer at Mutigi section of the scheme, John Ndegwa who has since adopted the new technology said he was able to harvest 31 bags of paddy rice during the just ended crop season and 24 bags more from the ratoon crop.

You can see from the ratoon crop alone I was able to earn about Sh.200, 000 and this has really improved my earnings as I am now fully in agribusiness, Ndegwa said.

Another farmer John Gakuya from Thiba section said he has fully switched to line planting and also the push weeder which is economical as compared to the manual weeding by eight men per acre.

With all these measures in place ahead of the completion of the Sh.19 billion Thiba dam in the next three years, this country will have reached a level of producing over and above rice national rice demand which stands at 550,000 metric tons, said Prof. Daigo Makihara, the Deputy Project advisor at the molecular laboratory research Centre.

Makihara has been seconded to the Kimbimbi KARLO Centre from Nagoya University of Japan which is a major rice research collaborator.

The modernization of the scheme also involves the expansion of the farming area with 22,000 more acres at Mutithi section.

The expansion, the first one since 1956 will also include new irrigation canals and feeder ones to the new shambas being expanded towards Chumbiri section, while the farmers are rearing to go once the dam is completed since they will no longer depend on raid fed rice production.

We will also be able to grow two or three crops in a year and this development other that making us food secure means more income from the rice, said Morris Mutugi, a farmer.

Source: Kenya News Agency