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Ministry research dwindling Rice harvest amid growing demand | Coastweek

MWEA Central Kenya (Xinhua) -- Second generation Mwea farmer Mercy Nyokabi reports that dwindling harvests have been her biggest nightmare. “The last two years have been the hardest, I barely get a ton from an acre piece of land yet a few years ago we used to get over 30 tons from the same piece of land." Agronomist Kefa Maranga suggests the problem lies with rising soil acidity due to continued misapplication of agricultural chemicals and crop fertilizers and general poor farming ethic.

Kenyan Ministry of Agriculture launches research
on dwindling Rice harvests amid growing demand

by Ejidiah Wangui NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- Mercy Nyokabi wades through a swampy ground trying to chase away a flock of birds having a field day on her farm in rice growing region of Mwea in Central Kenya.

Nyokabi who inherited the rice farm from her parents, said dwindling harvests have been her biggest nightmare. She partly blames the birds but she believes that erratic weather also contributes to the woe.

"The last two years have been the hardest, I barely get a ton from an acre piece of land yet a few years ago we used to get over 30 tons from the same piece of land.

"This area is suitable for rice farming which makes it hard for us to switch to other crops," said Nyokabi.

Her woes are likely to be eased as Yara, a global fertilizer manufacturer together with the Kenya’s Irrigation Board have commissioned a research to establish the cause of the declining rice harvests.

The investigations are aimed at finding out the amount of damage caused by fertilizers and farm chemicals in the rice growing regions.

For instance, Nyokabi still follows the same script her parents used decades ago which Kefa Maranga, an agronomist with Yara attributes to the prevailing situation.

"All what the rice growers are complaining about is as a result of rising soil acidity due to continued use of fertilizers and general poor farming ethic," said Maranga.

He pointed out that continued use of farm chemicals erodes soil of some of the crucial nutrients that plants need for growth and maximum production.

"When crops are starved of this nutrients they tend to stunt and the few that mature produce poorly which is evident in most of the farms here in Mwea.

"Most crops have a yellowish look which is a clear sign of unhealthy soils, we hope the investigations will lead us to a solution soon," he added.

Notably, most rice farmers in the region use ammonium-based fertilizers that also have high amounts of sulphur which acidifies the soil after continued use for a long time.

"Most fertilizers the farmers use have as high as 24 per cent of sulphur compared to the required 5.5 per cent.

"These chemicals have been piling up in the soil which I think is the greatest threat to the farmers right now," said Maranga.

Despite Kenya having the capacity to produce enough rice to meet the current demand, the country relies heavily on imports from Pakistan, Vietnam, Thailand and India.

Notably, rice is Kenya’s third staple food after maize and wheat and production is estimated at between 33,000 and 50,000 metric tons, while consumption is between 180,000 and 250,000 tons.


Africa Rice Center launches new project to improve food security

NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- An African research center said Monday it has launched a new rice project that targets to benefit 300,000 households in Kenya, Uganda and Madagascar.

Africa Rice Center said the project which is expected to enhance income and food security will adapt appropriate rice technologies and innovations to address emerging rice value chain constraints.

The project which will improve productivity and competitiveness of domestic rice will run for three years, said Paul Kiepe, head of research planning and coordination with the Africa Rice Center.

"The project is aimed at contributing to the development of the rice value chain in East Africa with focus to women and youths," Kiepe said during the launch in Nairobi.

He added that the project will involve multi stakeholders’ innovation platforms in strengthening functional linkages among rice value chain actors and to improve capacity of farmers.

Kiepe observed that since Kenya has risen to be the newest middle income country in the region, the country must seriously act to increasing its production and reduce the huge import dependency.

"The project will generate ample cross country learning cases, and indicate forms of collaboration that will effectively and sustainably contribute to each country’s growth and the rice development in the region," he added.

The researcher said that the private sector will be involved in the production and dissemination of new varieties to be widely adopted by the farming community.

The project that is funded by the International Fund for Agricultural Development is meant at improving the local supply of rice since the East African region imports the commodity amounting to 500 million U.S. dollars annually.

"The project will help Kenya achieve 100 percent food and nutrition security of populations, create employment and wealth to many stakeholders," Mwangi Kiunjuri, cabinet secretary for agriculture, livestock and fisheries.

Kiunjuri noted that it is expected that the project will help Kenya meet the deficit that stands at 400,000 metric tons annually since farmers locally produce 70,000-80,000 metric tons annually.

He noted that Kenya has the potential and capacity if harnessed to not only be self sufficient in rice but to also be an exporter.

Kenyan smallholder farmers root for value addition to boost incomes

by Robert Manyara NAKURU (Xinhua) -- Ephraim Maina, a Kenyan kales farmer, sells a bundle of the green vegetables for 50 shillings (0.5 U.S. dollar) during the low supply drought season often running from November to early April.

The small-scale farmer, who is based in Nakuru County, trades the similar quantity for 0.1 dollar after the rains come and the market is flooded with plenty of supply.

"When you sell at 0.1 dollars, you are not talking about profits.

"You are just giving it away instead of seeing it go to waste," said Maina.

"But I would be maintaining the same profit or even make more if I had a means of adding value to it and export it to other countries like Netherlands or China," he added.

When there is a glut, he would collect the kales, process them, hoard them and sell them at a better price, especially during drought when the vegetables are scarce, posed the farmer in his 50s.

He hopes for a training on processing of kales into multiple products and a grant to buy machines to start off.

"Our government can engage Chinese experts to train Kenyan farmers in the rural areas since China has advanced technology and conducts research on food production.

"And through the scientists, we can access Chinese market," noted the farmer.

Sharon Cheruto, who has practiced potato farming in Nakuru County for the past four years, shares the same burden of selling the produce at a loss during high supply season.

"Brokers buy a 120 kg sack of potatoes for 8 dollars when many farmers are harvesting at the same time and they have a choice of whom to buy from.

"They set the price and you have no bargaining power.

"You’d rather sell at a loss instead of incurring a total loss," said Cheruto.

The farmer said, she is yearning for skills and information on how to boost her income through adding value to the potatoes instead of selling them raw.

"The government should make an effort to help farmers like me make good profits from our farming.

"We hear through the radio, government officials asking farmers to add value to their produce to earn a good income throughout the year, but how can we do that if we don’t have the skills and information on how to do so?" posed Cheruto.

Experts observe that many farmers in Kenya continue to reel in poverty as they are unable to make good returns since they sell raw perishable produce.

"For instance, a farmer can harvest all the kales when there is plenty in the market and process it to sell it when the season is good instead of selling it at a throw away price," said Kennedy Sigei, an agricultural economist.

"It not just about lost income but lost inputs taking into account there is use of fertilizer, pesticides and even labor," he added.

The Kenyan government foresees boosting agricultural productivity and farmers’ income through processing of farm produce for local and export market.

This aspiration is highlighted in the 2019-2029 Agricultural Sector Transformation and Growth Strategy (ASTGS) by Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Irrigation where the government outlines plans for establishing six agro-processing hubs to assist farmers in adding value to their produce.



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