Michael Mwangi, an agronomist from Mwea rice growers multipurpose society, inspects a Komboka rice variety crop. Photo Credit: Marion Wagaki

Bridging East Africa’s rice production, consumption gaps

[rt_dropcap_style dropcap_content=”ICE is one of the key strategic crops for food security and a source of income for many households. However, the supply of rice in Kenya has fallen short of meeting the local demand despite an increase in production.”]

Kenya has partnered with Uganda and Madagascar in a project to enhance the performance of the local rice value chain based on innovative institutional approaches and knowledge products.

The three-year project dubbed ‘Strengthening the Rice Sector in East Africa for Improved Productivity and Competitiveness of Domestic Rice’ (EARiSS) is helping rice farmers to bridge the widening rice productionconsumption gap. The Kenya Agricultural Livestock Research Origination (KALRO), one of the implementing partners in the project, has been promoting appropriate seed production and delivery mechanisms as well as new rice varieties to boost productivity.

Emily Gichuhi, a rice breeder at KALRO, said they have created a seed unit and system whose mandate is to produce clean seeds for multiplication under the KEPHIS inspection

“We grow our seeds locally and do not import but despite the increase in the rice production, unfortunately, the country has not been able to meet the demand for consumption which currently stands at around 720 metric tonnes,” she said during a farmers exchange workshop in Kenya for all the three countries on the achievements of the EARiSS project.

To meet the demand, she said, various organisations such as the Kenya Seed, and National Biosafety Authority have been mandated to multiply the upland varieties — the Basmati Pishori and BW rice varieties while KALRO produces Nerica and the high-yielding Komboka varieties, which have been taken up by most farmers. “The new Komboka rice seed we are promoting has been seen to produce seven tonnes of rice per hectare compared to the Basmati-Pishori rice, which produces between four and five tonnes per hectare,” said Ms Gichuhi.

She added that they have licensed other seed merchants to assist in producing seed for Komboka, which is distributed throughout the country. Negussie Zenna from Africa Rice, Madagascar, said the exchange visit in Kenya is to gain experience and learn seed production and commercialisation.

“What we are lacking in some countries is seeds, the demand is high. Producers produce quality seeds but do not know where the market is and it is necessary for both producer and utiliser to meet at the right platform,” he said. Mr Zenna said they had been sensitising different stakeholders on seed quality through the EARiSS project.

“We want to expand, and see what other countries can offer in terms of supply as the demand for rice is growing exponentially not only in terms of quantity but quality. It needs to go through all levels from farmers, seed producers, marketers, millers and traders until to the table of consumers,” said Mr Zenna. Michael Mwangi, an agronomist at Mwea Rice Growers Multipurpose Cooperative Society, said the production of rice seeds is key to productivity.

“Farmers are satisfied with the new variety such as Komboka, considering in comparison to other old varieties its yields are quite high. For example, the production of one kilogramme of basmati variety costs a farmer Ksh60 compared to the Komboka, which costs a farmer only Ksh40 to produce,” he said Mr Mwangi said the society has contracted five farmers who own four to five acres each to produce seed in bulk.

“We have 3,500 active farmers out of the registered 7,500, what we have done is select a few farmers who ensure they produce the seeds for the rest of the members,” he said, adding that the society is involved in the entire value chain production, processing and marketing.

Patrick Githinji, a farmer who produces rice seeds, said: “I am now producing the seeds for the Komboka rice variety as it does not have a problem with the pests but also because farmers have started embracing it for its high yields.” The current demand for rice per individual per year stands at 20. 6 kilogrammes. In 2020, Kenya produced 180,000 metric tonnes of rice but KALRO projects production will increase by 10 per cent to 520,000 metric tonnes by 2030.

Emily Gichuhi, a rice breeder at KALRO, takes the visiting farmers from Kenya, Uganda and Madagascar through the rice production process. Photo Credit: Marion Wagaki

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