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New rainfed rice could unlock thousands of acres, save Kenya billions in imports

The introduction of new hybrid rice varieties that can be grown without flooding has made rice farming viable in over one million hectares of land, providing an answer to Kenya’s expensive rice production deficit.

Rainfed rice or aerobic rice relies on rainfall for establishment and growth. It is cultivated in ‘non-rice growing regions’ of the country, is cheaper to grow, drought tolerant, and perfectly suited for small-scale rice farming.

Also referred to as aerobic rice production, this system grows rice in well-drained, non-puddled soils. This saves on water, land preparation, transplanting, and mechanisation costs.

It also has the potential to be cultivated on 1Mha, while irrigated rice is limited to 540,000 ha. Currently, only 20 per cent (30,000 ha) of the country’s rice is produced under rain-fed conditions. 

Growing rice demand, hefty import bill

In 2022, Kenya imported 664,200Mt of rice worth Sh42.5 billion making it the 30th largest importer of the grain worldwide. 

Since 2008, rice consumption in Kenya has increased at an average rate of 12.7 per cent annually. In comparison, those of wheat and maize have increased by four and one per cent each.

This is a result of growing rice demand in ASAL regions, a rising population, and changing eating habits.

To reduce this ballooning import bill, the National Rice Development Strategy plans to increase the area under rain-fed rice from 10,631Ha to 42,000 and production from 1.7t/Ha to 3t/Ha.

Rainfed rice varieties 

This is only achievable through the adoption of high-yielding hybrid rice varieties that can be cultivated with minimal input.

Rainfed rice varieties are divided into Upland rice, “these are rice varieties grown in valley bottoms to hilly mountainous lands with slopes. Rice cultivation is done by preparing fields that are seeded when dry.” (Integrative Advances in Rice Research).

These areas include parts of Busia, and Kisumu in western Kenya, and Kwale, Kilifi, and Tana River in the Coast.

The other categorisation, lowland rice, “involves cultivation on leveled fields where water supply is mainly by rainfall and the water depth and the duration depends on the rain season. The water level cannot be controlled and rice plants are exposed to drought, deep floods, and alterations between water availability and unavailability”.(Integrative Advances in Rice Research).

Regions suited to lowland rice production include parts of Bungoma, Busia, Siaya, Kisumu, Kakamega, Kilifi, Kwale, Tana RiverMeru, Isiolo, Migori, Homa Bay, Embu, ElgeyoMarakwet and Lamu.

The best-performing rainfed rice variety is NERICA. 

It is high-yielding, requires minimal fertiliser, and matures faster shortening the growth cycle by 30–35 days. It also enables farmers to plant several crops in the same area and is drought-resistant.

According to Kalro’s knowledge bank, the following are rainfed rice varieties suitable for upland and lowland rice farming:

RAINFED UPLAND RICE VARIETIES

Variety                 Yield potentialDescription
NERICA 12.5-5 ton ha-1/ 1-2 ton/acre
12.5-25 bags/acre
Aromatic
Short awn
purple pigmentation on stem and grain, 
High protein content (25%),
Early maturing,
Good cooking quality 

Weed smothering ability
Tolerant to:
Blast 
Rice yellow mottle virus,
Bacterial leaf blight 

Can be grown in Upland ecologies in:
Western,
Nyanza, 
Rift Valley,
Central, 
Eastern, 
N. Eastern, and
Coast.
NERICA 43.2-6 ton ha-1/ 1.2-2.4 ton/acre
15-30 bags/acre
Long grain, 
High protein content, 
Weed smothering, 
High tillering, 
Medium threshability,
Medium maturing
Good cooking quality. 

Tolerant to:
Blast,
Rice yellow mottle virus,
Bacterial leaf blight

Can be grown in Upland ecologies in: 
Western, 
Nyanza, 
Rift Valley,
Central, 
Eastern, 
N. Eastern, 
Coast
NERICA 10


3.5-6 ton ha-1/ 1.4- 2.4 ton/acre
18-30 bags/acre
Long grains,
Awned, 
Purple pigmented grains, 

High protein content
Early maturing
Good cooking quality

Tolerant to:
Blast,
Rice yellow mottle virus, 
Bacterial leaf blight

Can be grown in Upland ecologies in: 
Western
Nyanza
Rift Valley
Central
Eastern,
N. Eastern,
Coast
NERICA 113-5 ton/ha/ 1.2-2  ton/acre
15-25 bags/acre
Drought tolerant
High ratoonability
Poor exertion
Medium maturing
Good cooking quality
High protein content

Tolerant to pests & diseases
Tolerant to:
Blast,
Rice yellow mottle virus,
Bacterial leaf blight, 

Can be grown in Upland ecologies in: 
Western, 
Nyanza, 
Rift Valley, 
Central, Eastern, 
N. Eastern, 
Coast
Dourado Precoce


2.3-5.5 ton ha-1/ 0.9-2.2  ton/acre
12-28 bags/acre
Awnless,
Late maturing,
Good cooking quality,

Tolerant to: 
Blast, 
Rice yellow mottle virus,
Bacterial leaf blight

Can be grown in Upland ecologies in: 
Western,
Nyanza, 
Central
Nam Roo5-7 ton ha-1/ 2-2.8 ton/acre
25-35 bags/acre
Red stem
Tall hence lodging resistant
Late maturing 

Tolerant to: Rice yellow mottle virus 

Can be grown in Upland ecologies in: 
Coast.
Nyanza,
Central,
Western
WAB 181-18


2.5-4 ton ha-1
1-1.6 ton/acre
13-20 bags/acre
Early maturing and
Good cooking quality

Tolerant to blast 

Can be grown in Upland ecologies in:
Nyanza and
Western.
TGR -943-4 ton ha-1/ 1.2-1.6 ton/acre
15-20 bags/acre
Medium maturing
Long grains

Tolerant to blast 

Can be grown in Upland ecologies in: 
Coast,
Nyanza,
Central,
Western
Compiled and Edited by W. Kore, J. Kimani, T. Okiyo, G. Onyango and J. Okora

RAINFED LOWLAND VARIETIES

WABIS- 6753-4 ton ha-1/ 1.2-1.6 ton/acre
15-20 bags/acre
Medium maturing

Tolerant to blast 

Can be grown in lowland rainfed ecologies in: 
Coast,
Nyanza,
Central,
Western
Jasmine-85


7-8 ton ha/ 2.8-3.2 ton/acre
35-40 bags/acre
Medium maturing
good cooking quality. 

Moderately susceptible to blast

Can be grown in  lowland rainfed ecologies in: 
Coast,
Nyanza,
Central,
Western
TGR -784-5 ton ha/ 1.6-2 ton/acre
20-25 bags/acre
Long grains 
Medium maturing
Good cooking quality

Tolerant to blast 

Can be grown in lowland rainfed ecologies in:
Coast,
Nyanza,
Central,
Western.
Ci Cong Ai9-11 ton ha/ 3.6 – 4.4 ton/acre
45 – 55 bags/ acre
High tillering
Medium maturing 

Can be grown in lowland rainfed ecologies in: 
Nyanza,
Western
Compiled and Edited by W. Kore, J. Kimani, T. Okiyo, G. Onyango and J. Okora

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