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Rice shortage looms as rivers dry up in Mwea

A rice farmer at the Mwea Irrigation Scheme.
A rice farmer at the Mwea Irrigation Scheme. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

An acute shortage of rice is looming in the country as low water levels hit the giant Mwea Irrigation Scheme in Kirinyaga County.

Rivers which supply water to the scheme which is Kenya's rice granary are drying up, raising fears that rice production may be low this season.

Water levels in Nyamindi and Thiba rivers which are the main sources of irrigation water have gone down drastically following a prolonged dry spell.

According to the chairman of the scheme's Water Users Association, Mr Maurice Mutugi, the water level is 1.4 cubic metres, down from 11.3 cubic metres.

"Water flowing currently cannot support farming in the 26,000 acre scheme and the situation is dire," said Mr Mutugi.

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Efforts to ration water is even becoming difficult because the commodity is little and cannot be enough for all the farmers.

Mr Mutugi said the crisis had been aggravated by the licencing of 35 illegal intakes in the upper zone.

"The government authorised the intakes to allow horticultural farmers irrigate their crops, worsening water scarcity at the scheme," said Mr Mutugi.

He noted that farmers might incur heavy losses adding that the entire country could be hit by rice shortage if the rains do not start in March.

He called on the national government to hasten the construction of the Sh20 billion Thiba dam at Rukenya village in Gichugu to mitigate water shortage in the scheme which is the largest in East and Central Africa.

"If this dam is completed water problem will be history while rice production will double," said Mr Mutugi.

When the weather is favourable, the 7,000 farmers produce one million bags of rice, each weighing 90 kilogrammes. Farmers complained that their crop had started wilting due to water shortage.

"This season we shall harvest little rice or nothing if the dry weather persists," said Ms Mary Wanjiku.

The hardest-hit areas are Wamumu, Karaba, Kiandegwa, Mutithi and Nguka where rice is grown in large scale.

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