New Rice for Africa brings Murang'a soils back to life
Posted Tuesday, January 29 2013 at 15:32
Rice is one of the common delicacies in many Kenyan households. It is also a meal that doesn' t miss in any public ceremony such as weddings.
And as much as the meal is one of the preferred delicacies in the country, much of it is imported. But in a strategic intervention aimed at enhancing production of food crops to adequately feed the rapidly increasing population, a new rice variety has been introduced to the farmers. The variety christened, new rice for Africa (Nerica) targets peasant cultivators residing in the country's highlands away from the established traditional agro-zones the crop is cultivated. "The key objective is to expand and bring new farms under the growing of this popular crop in a measure to tackle food insecurity in the country," says John Kiruthi, an agricultural extension officer in Kiharu, Murang'a County.
The officer says Nerica rice is planted and nurtured like ordinary food crops grown in the uplands. He says this type of rice does not require to be planted in marshy water logged paddy environments, like the traditional varieties. Nerica , he adds has being tested and proved can survive on dismal rainfall and give high yields. "Farmers do not need to have mechanized irrigation systems to water the crop." Kiruthi says this highland food crop has come in two brands namely Nerica 10 and Nerica 4 types. These brands are specifically developed for cultivation in the uplands, where peasants farmers depend on growing of maize and beans as key staple food.
The officer emphasized the core objective is to empower the ordinary farmers with a suitable less expensive crop which they could easily handle within their means. The new breed is expected to enable the farmers change their attitudes and over-reliance on maize as the key source of staple food. Nerica rice matures within a period of 3-4 moths, unlike maize which takes 5-6 months. The crop has been introduced to farmers in Murang'a County, a nontraditional rice growing region. Small holder farmers in this county have embraced the crop with excitement and they are abandoning the usual maize and beans cereals.
Kiruthi estimates about 40 hectares have been put under rice growing in the country in the last two years. He says about 60 hectares is targeted in the next few seasons. A pioneer rice grower, Rahab Mwihaki says the crop has more gins compared to maize. Mwihaki says a small portion is giving a high tonnage better than beans and maize yields. The officer explains a hectare in the region has the potential to produce 90 bags of 70 kg with minimal labor and financial input. Currently a kg of raw rice is selling at a farm gate price of 80 shillings far ahead of maize value in the locality. To organize rice growing projects, farmers have formed interests groups to address upcoming issues.
To back this food security initiative, Kiharu Constituency Development Fund (CDF) is providing funds to small holder irrigation projects in the region.Area Member of Parliament, Muturi Mwangi, who Xinhua spoke to said millions of shillings have been pumped into several irrigations facilities towards promotion of agricultural activities. He said the new rice will tackle nutrition, poverty, food deficit and enable the locals to generate households based incomes. The legislator says the new crop will contribute to social and economic growth and provide the residents with self reliant incomes projects.
Muturi notes this crop is ideal to stem hunger and earn growers a livelihood.He has urged his constituents to embrace organic farming and adopt crops which have more benefits to promote their economic interests. The lawmaker has welcomed the initiative saying it has brought a new lifeline to the peasant farmers. "We will no longer beg for food after discovering this rice which will not only feed our people but also earn them an extra coin," said Muturi. The waste from the crop is also used as fodder for animals meaning milk production will also rise. He has urged the farmers to shift from subsistence agriculture and embrace business oriented farming to create sustainable livelihoods in farmlands.
The chairman of Thathawa project Simon Kibachio says other varieties they are growing include Pishori, Basmati 370, and BW 196 which are performing well in local soil types.Researchers from the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) have partnered with farmers to offer intellectual and scientific support towards improvement and better husbandry of the crop in the new growing regions.