In a significant development aimed at boosting rice seed production and scaling up improved rice varieties in Kenya, the Mwea Rice Growers Multipurpose Cooperative Society (MRGM) – the largest farmers’ cooperative in East and Southern Africa (ESA) – has received a state-of-the-art seed dressing machine from the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).
This donation marks a major milestone in enhancing rice seed operations within the country. The official handover ceremony took place on June 12, 2023, at MRGM’s Seed Processing Unit in Mwea, and witnessed the presence of senior government officials from Kenya’s Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, Kenya Agricultural, and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO), and IRRI Africa scientists.
Enhancing Rice Seed Production
With a membership exceeding 7,000 farmers, MRGM plays a pivotal role as a registered seed producer and merchant, ensuring the availability of improved rice varieties in Kenya under a licensing agreement with KALRO. However, the cooperative has faced significant challenges in manual seed treatment, which has limited its operational efficiency and scale. To address this pressing issue and drive rice production growth, IRRI generously donated a modern seed dresser capable of processing 3-5 tons of rice seed per hour, revolutionizing the seed dressing process. Previously, the laborious manual drum seed dressing operation required 24 hours and a team of nine individuals to process the same seed quantity.
Reducing Rice Imports and Promoting Climate-Smart Varieties
IRRI’s timely contribution of a modern seed dresser reflects its commitment to addressing the pressing need of minimizing rising rice imports in ESA, which have exerted a heavy burden on local economies. With declining rice self-sufficiency rates in various African countries, including Kenya, the availability of high-quality seed for improved climate-smart varieties is vital to reverse this trend.
Over the past decade, IRRI has been at the forefront of developing market-demanded and climate-resilient rice varieties, having released nearly forty varieties in the region. The modern seed dressing machine donated to MRGM not only enhances quality seed production but also aligns with IRRI’s and the Kenyan government’s mission to boost the overall rice sector in Kenya.
Driving Adoption of High-Yielding Varieties
IRRI’s efforts in the region focus on driving the widespread adoption of climate-resilient, high-yielding rice varieties. In many countries where farmers continue to rely on outdated varieties, some of which were released over four decades ago, the combination of these new varieties and the use of quality seed is expected to significantly contribute to regional food and income security.
During the handover event, Dr. Rosemary Murori, IRRI Country Representative for Kenya and Tanzania, emphasized the importance of enhancing MRGM’s capacity for quality seed production. Dr. Murori highlighted that by bolstering MRGM’s capacity, farmers gain increased access to seeds of improved rice varieties such as Komboka. This effort will contribute to higher rice yields, decreased rice imports in Kenya, and aligns with the National Rice Development Strategy and the government’s Bottom up Economic Transformation Agenda (BETA) for 2022-2027.
Government Collaboration for Rice Sector Growth
Dr. Mary Mutembei, Head of the Rice Promotion Programme (RiPP) at the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, expressed gratitude to IRRI for its unwavering support in strengthening the rice sector in Kenya and bolstering seed systems. Dr. Mutembei highlighted the government’s expansion program to increase the area under rice cultivation, which is expected to drive the demand for rice seed to approximately 7,500 MT by 2030. The modern seed dressing machine provided by IRRI significantly enhances MRGM’s capacity to produce quality seed, meeting the growing demand in the country. With improved efficiency, quality rice seed will be made available to farmers in a timely manner and at an affordable price.
Acknowledging Support and Transformative Impact
Mr. Muriuki, CEO of MRGM, expressed gratitude for the seed dresser provided by IRRI, emphasizing the transformative impact it will have on rice seed processing operations at the cooperative. He firmly believes that this generous contribution strengthens MRGM’s position as a leader in providing quality seed to farmers in Kenya and sets a model for emulation by other farmers’ cooperatives in East and Southern Africa.
Supporting Local Partners and Ongoing Initiatives
IRRI’s donation of the modern seed dresser is part of its broader effort to support local partners in the region, including national agricultural research and extension systems (NARES), non-governmental organizations, farmers’ cooperatives, and women’s groups. This initiative aligns with the objectives of the ongoing project, Accelerated Genetic Gain in Rice (AGGRi) Alliance, which started in 2019 and aims to unify and modernize rice breeding and seed systems efforts in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. Additionally, IRRI’s efforts to strengthen rice seed systems in ESA are complemented by the OneCGIAR Seed Equal initiative, further reinforcing the commitment to ensuring the availability of high-quality seeds of new rice varieties to smallholder farmers in ESA at the right time.