A high yielding, fast maturing rice variety that defies traditional rice growing conditions has been introduced to Murang'a farmers promising them higher income than other traditional cereals while offering food security solutions to the government that is grappling with feeding a rising population as the country's staple maize disappoints.
The variety is also poised to reduce the yawning production deficit. Currently, the country has a rice production deficit of more than 200,000 tonnes, which has to be met by imports, resulting in loss of currency.
Christened new rice for Africa (NERICA), the variety does not require to be planted in marshy water logged paddy environments like the traditional types and can survive on low rainfall. The variety that comes in two brands namely Nerica 10 and Nerica 4, is fit for cultivation in the uplands and is nurtured like ordinary food crops that grow in uplands.
"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 variety is also fast maturing, taking some 3-4 months to mature as opposed to other cereals in Murang'a that takes 6 months to mature. It is high yielding too. A hectare can produce 90 bags of 70kg with minimum labour and financial input while fetching higher farm gate prices.
A kilo goes for Sh80 way ahead of maize, the commonly grown cereal in the area which fetches Sh40 a kilo. The variety has already been introduced in other counties of Kenya.
The new breed is expected to enable the farmers change their attitudes and over-reliance on maize as the key source of staple food.
Small holder farmers in this county have embraced the crop with excitement and they are abandoning the usual maize and beans cereals.
Some 40 hectares have been put under rice growing in the country in the last two years with 60 hectares targeted in the next few seasons according to Kiruthi, a move that is expected to get small holder farmers fully switch to the rewarding variety.
To back this food security initiative, Kiharu Constituency Development Fund (CDF) is providing funds to small holder irrigation projects in the region.
Njogu Gakiria one of the pioneer farmers of the variety say the benefits compared to growing maize and beans has been immense. Gakiria who has planted maize for the last three decades in his one acre piece of land says the comparison in terms of gains is like night and day. “I have just harvested and I couldnt even leave anything for my family. It was sold out within the first day in the market.
The demand is so high, and yet I used so little while planting it. This is definitely the solution to our poverty woes in Murang'a,”he said. Its aroma and ease in selecting is also attracting more buyers. The waste from the crop is also used as fodder for animals increasing milk production.
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.
Nerica rice is a cross between African and Asian rice varieties that was produced by the Africa Rice Centre and is considered to be suitable for the unique growing environment in sub-Saharan Africa.
After its introduction in the country in the continent around 2006. the continent harvested 21.6 million tonnes of rice, six per cent more than in 2005. The variety is poised to reduce rice importation costs in Africa to an annual savings of more than $90million.