New varieties of rice to be introduced to farmers soon

By James Kariuki

August 29, 2017

Rice farmers prepare land for planting in Nyando, Kisumu County. FILE PHOTO | NMG

Kenya is looking at introducing 15 high-yielding, locally developed rice varieties that, once commercialised, could drastically reduce the country’s import requirements.

The move could save the nation billions of shillings in foreign exchange. It follows completion of the second national field trials (NFT) in May at various farms that reported bumper harvests.

The rice varieties developed by Kenyan researchers under the Hybrid Rice Project saw harvests triple to between 7 and 10 tonnes per hectare, with fewer cases of diseases reported.

“On May 2017, we inched closer to delivering the first indigenous rice hybrids in Kenya after second successful national performance trials (NPT) for the 15 new varieties. Just like in the first NPT in 2016, the varieties showed the much-desired traits; early maturity, higher yields and disease resistance,” said a statement signed by the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) Rice Project manager Kayode Sanni.

The trials were conducted by Hybrids East Africa (HEAL) under the supervision of the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (Kephis) at Hola and Malindi in the coastal region, Mwea in Central Kenya as well as in Siaya and Kisumu counties.

“With the law requiring a minimum of two NPTs, the project is now looking forward to the next step in the commercialisation process: conducting the distinctness, uniformity and stability (DUS) trials.

Results from NPT and DUS will then be submitted to the National Performance Technical Committee and thereafter to the National Variety Release Committee,” said the statement. The Hybrid Rice Project, which is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, used the 2-line rice hybrid technology to address perennial low yield challenges blamed on pests and diseases, erratic weather and poor quality.

The move could see the acreage under rice increase, since Kenya produces less than 200,000 tonnes of rice per year against a demand of over 450,000 tonnes.

The new varieties take three months to mature, one month faster than the current varieties. Some can do well without irrigation, saving on production costs.

“The new varieties yield between seven and 10 tonnes per hectare compared with the current three tonnes per hectare. They are as competitive as imported rice in terms of quality and affordability,’ said Dr Sanni, adding that farmers could earn between Sh35,000 and Sh100,000 more per hectare.

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