- Rice is the third most important cereal in the country after maize and wheat.
- There are four National Irrigation Board (NIB) run rice schemes across the country. They include Mwea, which accounted for 78 per cent of the irrigated area in the country and 88 per cent of production between 2005 and 2010, according to NIB data. The other three are Ahero, Bunyala and West Kano in western Kenya.
Sitting next to a wooden structure nestled among bushy palm trees of Jarajara, Garissa County, Hassan Yunis, 70, deeps his hand in a basket full of rice, scoops some and carefully examines it to check if it has husks.
Yunis engages in the exercise as he whiles away time. The septuagenarian is among farmers growing rice under irrigation in the district.
Two decades ago, the old man reminisces, goats, camels and cattle wondered freely across the rolling plains of Jarajara browsing herbs. Pasture was not a major problem.
However, frequent droughts have made goat and camel rearing unprofitable, prompting the switch.
“Pastoralism is no longer profitable, pushing many to rice,” says Yunis, whose 20 camels died of famine in 2011, which was his turning point.
Most of the land in Jarajara, about 150km from Garissa town, is virgin and, therefore, supports crop farming well. Even though the area is dry and arid, River Tana has made rice growing under the paddy method possible.
Over 50 farmers are cultivating the pishori and basmati varieties for consumption and for sale, with a 50kg bag going for Sh5,500.
“We experienced some challenges when starting but farmers are now reaping the benefits. For instance, some farmers did not want to uproot grass from the rice fields claiming that it was fodder for their cattle but we have overcome all that,” says Abdikadir Soye, an agricultural extension officer working with the farmers.
Paddy rice cultivation is done under varied climatic conditions and soil types ranging from loamy to black cotton soil, but a lot of water is needed for irrigation.
REGAL-IR, a USAID and the Ministry of Agriculture project, which is supporting the initiative, sent 25 farmers from Jarajara to Mwea Rice Irrigation Scheme to learn the new skills.
The farmers returned to implement the irrigation project sometime in 2011.
“We currently have more than 65 acres under rice. Every farmer owns at least an acre in the scheme,” notes Yunis, who is also the chairman of Jarajara Rice Farmers.
Habiba Mohammed, a mother of six, says she gets not less than 10 50kg bags of the cereal from an acre.