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Rice prices increase by 38 per cent on production drop

Margaret Wangu and Judy Waruguru plant rice on their paddy at Mwea Irrigation Scheme. PHOTO | BONIFACE MWANGI
Margaret Wangu and Judy Waruguru plant rice on their paddy at Mwea Irrigation Scheme. PHOTO | BONIFACE MWANGI 

A steep decline in rice production has pushed up the retail price by 38 per cent, piling pressure on households that are already grappling with the high cost of living in a sluggish economy.

A kilogramme of Pishori rice at Mwea Irrigation Scheme was Monday selling at more than Sh200 per kilogramme, up from Sh145 in January.

Mwea is Kenya’s largest irrigation scheme, whose performance impacts the volumes of the grain available in the market as well as the pricing.

The National Irrigation Board (NIB) said rice production at Mwea dropped from average yields of 830,000 bags in the season ended March last year to 498,000 bags in the season ended March this year, a 40 per cent decline.

This has seen the value of rice imports increase to Sh15.89 billion in the six months to June, up from Sh6.6 billion in the same period last year.

The volume of imported rice rose to 353,082 tonnes from 261,819 tonnes in the same period last year.

A kilo of Daawat Basmati rice was Monday selling at Sh237, Daawat Aromati (Sh217), Sunrice Mwea Pishori (Sh200) and Pearl Kenya Pishori (Sh249) at Nairobi supermarkets. 

“The cost of rice has been increasing since January following a drop in output at the Mwea Irrigation Scheme in the wake of a severe drought that affected the flow of water,” said Innocent Ariemba, a manager at the scheme.

Mwea accounts for 80 per cent of Kenya’s rice production, making it a major determinant of the country’s ability to meet annual demand.

Kenya produces 150,000 tonnes of rice a year, leaving a 250,000 tonnes deficit that is met through imports.

NIB said River Thiba, whose flow on a normal season is six cubic meters per second, declined to two cubic meters per second late last year, reducing the amount of water at the scheme.

Mwea Irrigation Scheme requires a total flow of seven cubic meters for effective production, Mr Ariemba said.

NIB said it expected the situation to normalise from November when the crop that is currently on the farm is harvested.

In event of good rains, Mwea is expected to produce up to 95 per cent of the required yields in the current season that started in April and ultimately bring down retail prices.

The drought, which took a toll on production early this year, has affected hundreds of growers who rely on the crop as their economic mainstay. With good rains, farmers in Mwea produce rice worth Sh7 billion a year.

Kenya’s rice consumption has been growing at the rate of 10 per cent a year to stand at 400,000 tonnes, according to the Ministry of Agriculture.

The acute shortage of rice comes at a time when research findings by Egerton University-based Tegemeo Research Institute indicate that rice is becoming an important staple due to changing lifestyles and growth of the middle income population.

The national rice development strategy had last year projected that by 2017 the demand for rice would surpass the current estimates of 400,000 tonnes.

NIB is about to start construction of Sh16 billion Thiba Dam in Mwea to create a reservoir that is expected to play a key role in addressing the challenges of water shortage as it seeks to maintain a stable supply of the produce.

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