Scientists unveil water friendly rice variety

Research institution KARI has developed a high-yielding rice variety which uses 40 percent less water and yields 50 percent more grain than traditional variety, and is to be rolled out to farmers who grow rice through irrigation as water levels dwindle to unprecedented lows.

The new rice has deeper roots meaning it can reach the lowest water beds and requires the soil to be aerated before planting. Erratic weather patterns in Kenya have seen water in key irrigation schemes being reduced, negatively affecting the country's rice production. The Kenya Agricultural Research Institute, Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology together with water experts involved in the research say the new variety can use three planting seasons the same water that traditional varieties use in one planting.

“As we move rice planting from the traditional rice growing areas and encourage more people to embrace planting rice through irrigation, we also need to factor in water and lack of it so that people dont get discouraged by poor yields. This is where this project comes in handy,” said Peter Bosire one of the scientists involved in coming up with the variety. Alec Kimathi, a project executive assistant at BFZ, a German non-governmental organisation, says Kenya's inadequate energy and food production are directly linked to water scarcity in most parts of the country.

He blames this on low per capita water storage -- currently at 102 cubic metres in Kenya -- against a recommended 1,000 cubic metres. Although the country is starting to embrace geothermal energy production, Kimathi advises that proper systems should be put in place to avoid water wastage from its processes.

Rice is Kenya’s third staple food after maize and wheat. Its rate of consumption has been growing rapidly and it is likely to overtake wheat overtime.  Local production is estimated at between 35, 000 -50,000 metric tones while consumption is estimated to be between 180,000 and 250,000 metric tones.

Written by Bob Koigi for African Laughter