Water supply to rice farmers in the Mwea Irrigation Scheme could be cut off following a Sh1 billion dispute between two government agencies.
The Water Resources Management Authority (Warma) has threatened to cut supply if the National Irrigation Board does not pay the water bills accumulated from 2007.
Warma official David Mumo said the scheme had consumed water amounting to one billion cubic metres over the last five years.
Although Warma charges three shillings per cubic metre, the government subsidises the farmers with two shillings per cubic metre.
Farmers also pay Sh2,000 per acre per year to the irrigation board as irrigation levy.
According to the board’s director, Hosea Wendott, it does not owe Warma any money.
“We have promptly paid water bills since the scheme was started in 1966. Warma needs to look at its records afresh,” Mr Wendott said.
The Mwea Irrigation Scheme covers 20,000 acres, engages 4,500 farmers and accounts for more than 80 per cent of Kenya’s rice ouput.
Warma disconnected the water supply at the weekend, only to rescind the decision after Mwea East DC Kula Hache intervened and referred the dispute to the Ministry of Water for arbitration.
“The debt demand is abrupt and no one was aware of it. However, these being government institutions, the matter will be resolved amicably,” Ms Hache said.
Farmers, however, fear that the row will undermine their efforts to maximise earnings after three years of low yields caused by drought.
“Rice farmers are reeling under a debt of Sh3.6 billion which we have been requesting the Ministry of Cooperatives to waive,” said Ndia MP and Nairobi Metropolitan Minister Njeru Githae.
The debts piled when local financial institutions started lending to farmers who supply rice to rice millers.
Other challenges facing farmers are invasion of quelea birds and flooding from River Thiba and Nyamindi.
The government has earmarked Sh18.5 billion to rehabilitate the scheme as one of the anchor projects aimed at enhancing food security.
Part of the money would develop an additional 8, 000 acres of land to be put under rice irrigation.
The expansion programme, once completed, will see rice production rise from the current 40, 000 to 100, 000 tonnes per year.
The expansion will see a new dam built in Mutithi Area at a cost of Sh3 billion.