By Anita Chepkoech
Fifteen new varieties of rice are set to be released to farmers to boost the production of the local crop which is performing dismally at the moment.
One of the hybrids can do well under irrigation, while the other can survive under rain-fed farming, just like maize, thus saving farmers the hefty cost of pumping water for irrigation.
“The new varieties will improve yields of rice and make it as competitive as imported rice in terms of quality, price and affordability,” said Dr Kayode Sanni, the rice manager for The African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) which is overseeing the five-year project that was launched in 2012.
The yields range from seven to 10 tonnes per hectare, provided that the farmer adheres to good farming practices, including creating good soil conditions for the seedlings.
“From our analysis, farmers stand to gain an average of Sh35, 000 to Sh100, 000 more than with the old variety,” he said.
According to Electine Wafula, a plant breeder at Hybrids East Africa Limited, who worked on the crop, the new rice varieties will mature early, will adapt to various environments and require less water, thus improving farmers’ incomes.
With the exception of Pishori, a local aromatic rice, most locally-grown rice takes longer to mature, than hybrids which mature within three months. However, the problem with Pishori is that it has a lower yield and is also prone to diseases, especially blast.
Despite being the country’s second staple food, Kenya produces less than 200, 000 metric tonnes of rice against a demand of over 450,000 metric tonnes according to data from the National Irrigation Board.
The gap is bridged with imports from Asian countries, further dulling the market for local farmers whose rice is of poorer quality.
“The hybrid is of good quality and can replace our indigenous rice. It also has characteristics of Pishori which is loved by Kenyans, and has a more translucent and stronger grain,” said Dr Raphael Wanjogu, the chief research officer at the National Irrigation Board.
Despite being popular, many Kenyans opt to buy imported rice over Pishori, because the imported varieties are cheaper. Imports are also of better quality than other varieties of local rice.
“This new type is closer to Pishori, so with its quality and yields, it will enable us take over the market from importers. It can also be grown in areas where Pishori cannot do well like in western Kenya,” said Dr Wanjogu.
The fast-maturing rice can grow during the short rains since it only takes three months to mature. Maturing even a month faster than competing varieties makes a world of difference in savings for farmers.
Other than two sites in Kisumu, the new rice has also been tested in Hola, Malindi, Mwea and Siaya and found to have the desired qualities.
The Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (Kephis) results for the first national trial done last year were successful whereas the second trial results are being awaited. The law requires that two trials are done.
Once the regulator, Kephis, gives the greenlight, the crops will be named and seeds will be distributed to farmers.
“We are producing foundation seeds which will be used by farmers and there is a company to multiply the seeds once we get the approvals,” said Dr Sanni.
To ensure sustainability, AATF will partner with local seed companies which will produce their own seeds for sale.
“We are working with seed companies. We want them to get direct access to quality seeds (male and female) and have the capacity to use them to produce their own seeds,” said Dr Sanni.
The scientists are also working on producing rice hybrids that are aromatic in nature.