Rice farmers in Kenya to double yields with SRI technique

Rice farmers in Kenya are set to double their production, reduce seed wastage by 90 percent and cut on water costs by 40 percent, thanks to a new precise production method that significantly reduce plant population, improve soil conditions and require less water.
Dubbed System of Rice Intensification (SRI), this low water, labor-intensive, organic method that uses younger seedlings singly spaced and typically hand weeded with special tools unlike the traditional flooding method currently used by farmers that demand transplantation of only overgrown seedlings, instead of one young seedling hence seed wastage. This old method also requires a lot of water, making farmers in Ahero Irrigation Scheme for instance spend at least Sh18m on water per year.
Advantages
SRI practices provide immediate benefits. There is no transition period, as necessary with many conversions to a more organic agriculture. After prolonged exposure to synthetic chemicals soil ecosystems often require some time to become fully restored. SRI yields generally improve over time, but there is no initial period of loss: first-season yields are usually higher than before.
The lower capital costs of using SRI also mean that its economic and other benefits are not limited by access to capital, nor does it require loans and indebtedness. It can thus contribute rapidly to greater food security for the poor. Some initial evidence suggested that labour requirements made SRI less accessible to the poor; but a larger study in Sri Lanka found poorer farmers to be as likely to adopt SRI as richer ones, and less likely to abandon it.
According to Professor Bancy Mati of the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, although rice is a water loving plant, it does not have to grow in water like it is a swimming pool.
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Research on the rice-growing schemes across the country shows that the crop can do well in highly moist but not flooded soil, the agriculture expert says, adding that moist soil improves root growth and promoted diversity of aerobic soil organisms.
Following the research, the National Irrigation Board (NIB) in partnership with AgSri, an Indian organization introduced the SRI method to help farmers save on water, labour costs and seeds while doubling yields. The Indian firm is offering expertise, training, seeds, fertilizer and mechanical rice weeders.
Dr Sammy Lyatema, the NIB national chairman says the new method and mechanization of major schemes including Perkerra, Ahero, West Kano and Bunyala will double production in the country from the current 983,694 bags per year.
“Rice is the next staple food that will make Kenya food secure but its production has remained low. We are keen to improve on that,” says Dr Lyatema.
The SRI technology was introduced three years in Mwea Irrigation Scheme and has been adopted by half of the farmers.
In Ahero and West Kano schemes, over 100 farmers have been trained on the new system.
Agriculture experts are betting big on SRI to help Ahero farmers save up to Sh8 million annually on water costs.