It’s the end of the 62nd plantation season since Ahero irrigation scheme was commissioned. While the farmers have all along enjoyed the fruit of their hard work, albeit with challenges, they now look to the future with optimism courtesy of Kisumu County’s government intervention.
The County Government of Kisumu has embarked on an ambitious plan to change the face of rice farming in the county. The county has promised to be a major contributor towards food security in the nation.
According to the National Cereals and Produce Board, the national rice demand in Kenya stands at 300,000 tonnes per year while the national rice production trails the demand at 80,000 tonnes per year.
Kenya spends Sh7B to import rice to meet the national deficit. Meanwhile, annual consumption of rice is increasing at 12% compared to wheat at 4% and maize at 1%.
As a show of commitment, and in partnership with the national government, the County Government has purchased 25 tractors for ploughing and tilling the land. It has also rolled out a plan to introduce horticultural crops during non-rice planting seasons.
“Rice takes approximately 4 months in the field. A year has 12 months. What we want to introduce is alternative crops like sorghum, watermelons, kales among other horticultural crops which do very well in this area,” explains Dr. Paul Omanga, an agronomist.
Bubbling with potential, the rice schemes within the county are sleeping giants. As part of the initial plan, the County Government through the Kisumu Rice stakeholders forum has registered a Sacco to assist in the management of finances which has been identified as one of the major causes of paralysis in this sector.
However, to the farmers, their immediate concern that needs to be urgently addressed is the menace of markets and cost of production. This will require a radical departure from what the region has been used to.
“We have always planted IR which is not very common in the Kenyan market. Therefore, we export our produce to Uganda. Sometimes it takes a while to get the market the paddies rot. We also incur quite a huge cost of production because the use generators to pump water to the field instead of gravity which is very affordable,” lamented Jacob Ongere who is the secretary of the Ahero farmers association revolving fund.
But Dr. Omanga, who is also the Chairman of the Kisumu rice stakeholders’ forum, disagrees.
“Our people should adhere to agronomical systems of plantating. Like the issues of quality seeds, pesticides, mechanization among other recommended good farming practices. If they do that, the rice schemes within the county can greatly reduce the annual rice deficit,” emphasizes Dr. Omanga
According to Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), official estimates indicate over 10 million people are food insecure with the majority of them living on food relief.
Households are also incurring huge food bills due to the high food prices. Maize being staple food due to the food preferences is in short supply and most households have limited choices of other food stuff.
In view of the grim figures, the County Government of Kisumu has begun the soft implementation of their vision to meet the national rice deficit.
The county Government has organized several educational trips to the Mwea irrigation scheme so that the farmers can learn from their counterparts who plant approximately 96 percent aromatic rice.
Mwea Irrigation Scheme has also adopted System of Rice Intensification (SRI), a climate-smart, a yield-increasing methodology that is being utilized by more than 10 million smallholder farmers in over 55 countries according to SRI International Resource Centre.
According to KARI, the current food insecurity problems are attributed to several factors, including the frequent droughts in most parts of the country, high costs of domestic food production due to high costs of inputs especially fertilizer, high global food prices and low purchasing power for the larger proportion of the population.
The Agricultural sector directly contributes 24 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and 27 percent of GDP indirectly through linkages with manufacturing, distribution and other service related sectors.
Approximately 45 percent of Government revenue is derived from agriculture and the sector contributes over 75 percent of industrial raw materials and more than 50 percent of the export earnings. The sector is the largest employer in the economy, accounting for 60 percent of the total employment. Over 80% of the population living in rural areas, derive their livelihoods mainly from agricultural related activities.
Due to these reasons, the Government of Kenya (GoK) has continued to give agriculture a high priority as an important tool for promoting national development.
The farmers, however, admit guilt in terms of the minimal involvement of young people in rice farming. Their place has been relegated to the transportation of the produced rice through boda-boda while the ones who are lucky to get an education move away from farm fields to seek employment in cities.
It is however, encouraging seeing a few women defying deeply entrenched patriarchal systems to get involved in rice farming and the value chain system.
According to Jacob Ongere, women are the undisputed leaders who are acting as middle women to deliver rice to the market.
In a passionate appeal, the farmers are setting their sites beyond the region. Speaking to both local and international investors, the farmers have made a promise to welcome investors to the scheme.
The county boasts of two major irrigation schemes under the National Irrigation Board namely; Kano west and Ahero Irrigation schemes. Other community managed schemes have also been targeted for the major changes that the county wants to implement.