KENYA - Japan is set to increase the land it is irrigating in Mwea from 20,000 to 32,000 acres.
As part of the Rice-Based and Market-Oriented Agriculture Promotion Project (Rice-Mapp), Japan said its aim is to increase the sector’s value chain and reduce operational costs, boosting the country’s productivity.
Out of the 30,000 acres currently under irrigation in Mwea, 20,000 acres are irrigated by Rice-Mapp, with farmers irrigating the remaining section, which has proven to be an expensive undertaking for them.
The project had earlier introduced the Water Saving Rice Culture (WSRC) to provide farmers with gauges to minimise water losses and lower their expenses.
The Japanese programme will now put 2,000 more acres under irrigation, and irrigate the farmers’ section.
In addition, new varieties of rice currently on trial — Basmati 370 and Arize 6444 — are about to be distributed to selected farmers.
The anticipation is that these varieties will boost incomes by 40 per cent, increasing the country’s trade value of raw rice to Sh6 billion from Sh4.2 billion.
Further, if the by-products — crushed husks and hay — are processed, the sub-sector’s value could increase even more.
“A farmer can get 7.5 tonnes of harvest from the current 5.5 tonnes per acre. However, farmers will need guidance on the kind of fertiliser and method of application to use,” said Rice-Mapp researcher, Akio Goto. “
For instance, a lot of fertiliser on Basmati usually causes it lodge immediately it rains.” Lodging refers to a condition where the base of a plant stem weakens to the point it can no longer support the weight of its upper portion, causing it fall in the field.
About 1,000 farmers will be sensitised on the new varieties.
Acknowledging the poor infrastructure that has limited rice farmers’ earnings, Masakazu Ikefuchi, a deputy director in Japan’s ministry of agriculture, pledged technical and institutional support.
“Kenya’s challenge is mechanising farming, as many imported technologies are large-scale and not adaptable to small-scale farmers. Japan, through its industries, will customise these technologies to cater for all segments of farmers from cultivation to processing,” he said.
“It should be farming for business and not just farming for food. Agriculture is the largest gross domestic product (GDP) contributor, so it should be prioritised.”
Rice-Mapp will also be introducing alternative crops (soya, green grams and other legumes, as well as vegetables) to diversify rice farmers’ earnings and maintain soil fertility.