Rice farmers in the Bunyala, Ahero, Kano and Mwea irrigation schemes have adopted a technology that seeks to improve and increase the yields and quality of their rice.
“The system is set to reduce the cost of producing rice while at the same time increasing the yields with the best and quality rice possible in all the irrigation schemes,” said Laban Kiplagat, the National Irrigation Board’s western Kenya regional manager.
The System of Rice Intensification (SRI) has in the past three years been encouraging rice farmers to go back to the crop which they had abandoned due to low returns and high production costs caused by rising prices of fertiliser and pesticides.
The trend led many rice millers to close shop, leaving the farmers in the mercies of middlemen who exploited them by buying their paddy at relatively low prices. As a result, the country has been spending Sh8 billion annually to import rice.
The situation is, however, set to change with the adoption of the SRI technology.
In the setup, the seedlings are transplanted early, little water is used and the paddy is planted with more spacing which makes it even easier to weed.
“With the new system, the paddy is transplanted after eight to 14 days in the nursery. This makes the seedlings adapt to the new environment early and make use of all the nutrients in the soil,” said Mr Kiplagat.
He said SRI technology does not require a lot of water like in the conventional way of paddy cultivation because small amount is sprinkled at intervals to the field to allow free circulation of air to the crops.
“Since little amount of water is used, the land does not become water-logged and very little fertiliser is required. Some people even prefer to top dress by placing fertilisers to the plant only, because the spacing in this method makes it easy,” Mr Kiplagat said.
“An evaluation by the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) in collaboration with the Maseno University revealed that the SRI technology uses less water and seeds. The harvested grains tend to break less, making the miller get less of broken rice,” Bancy Mati of the JKUAT, who co-ordinates the study, said.
Prof Mati added that the use of SRI increases the productivity of rice paddy by over 50 per cent and at the same time reducing the cost of production.
The managing director of the Lake Basin Development Authority’s Kibos Rice Miller, Washington Bwire, said the firm welcomes all interventions that will see the farmer reduce the cost of production.
He said the move would enable the farmers sell their paddy to the millers at relatively low prices so that the they can in turn compete with rice millers from other countries.
According to the National Cereals and Produce Board, local production of rice is estimated to be between 80,000 to 100,000 metric tonnes while the consumption of the cereal ranges from 250,000 to 350,000 metric tonnes annually.