By George Munene
“Komboka rice farming has changed my life. This season, I am expecting to harvest an average of 34 bags of 90kgs from an acre,” Stephen Jaramba, a rice farmer at Bura Irrigation Scheme, said. Peter, a rice farmer from Bura has been getting 36-120kg bags, from a 1.5-acre plot. “For my 1.5 acres, growing this variety from scratch would cost roughly KSh130,000. The crop has a ratoon that requires little crop management, and yields at least 50 per cent of the initial production average,” he said.
Komboka has not only contributed to the food sufficiency of Tana River but also to the economy. In the Financial Year 2020-2021, farmers earned Sh48 million, and in 2021/22 Sh216 million from Komboka rice farming.
The National Cereals and Produce Board (NCBP) has provided farmers at Bura with a ready market for the rice. NCBP pays Sh60 per kilogramme of paddy rice up from the initial Sh40. Mr Peter Orua, the Manager for Bura Irrigation Scheme, is optimistic that this price will go up with more people from the private sector coming in to buy the rice at KSh62 per kilogramme.
Launched in December 2020, Komboka rice yields 35 90kg bags per acre on average and up to 40 bags compared to Basmati which yields 20 to 25 bags. It is also reputed for its higher number of tillers, uniform crop stand, even and early maturity, aroma, higher yields, easiness to thresh, longer panicles, resistance to diseases (Blast and Rice Yellow Mottle Virus (RYMV), appealing grain type, good plant height and lack of lodged hills compared to Pishori rice.
The variety was developed by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and registered by the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO).
At a field demonstration by the National Irrigation Authority (NIA) on February 24, 2020, in Ahero Irrigation Scheme, farmers hailed the milled Komboka rice for its cooking quality, non-stickiness, good taste, and aroma. Millers noted the rice to have a high milling recovery rate, non-stickiness when cooked, aroma, and medium-sized grains.
The National Irrigation Authority (NIA) provides irrigation water at Bura at a one-off fee of KSh7,500 per 1.5 acres in six months, covering both the main crop and the subsequent ratoon crop. Additionally, the government corporation trains farmers on the best farming practices for Komboka rice.
Most Bura farmers practice mechanised rice harvesting, which growers say is cost-effective. “We pay Sh8,000 per 1.5 acres for a combine harvester, which is a drop from the initial manual labour costing Sh15,000,” says Mr. Somo Ismael, a farmer at Bura.
Mr. Somo says that NIA has intervened in a number of challenges farmers face at the scheme, including acquiring certified seeds and introducing Laser land leveling which saves time ensuring for timely land preparation, especially for those holding large tracts of land.
Bura Irrigation Scheme has put 2,031 acres up from the initial 1,400 acres under rice production. This acreage is at different growth stages in the current cropping season. It is proof that Komboka has widely gained acceptance from farmers at the scheme and beyond.
Kenya currently imports about Sh23 billion worth of rice per year, this bill the government hopes will go down with the production of Kamboka in good quantities. At its launch in Mwea, Kirinyaga, KALRO Director-General Dr. Eliud Kireger pointed out that the country has been well short of meeting the annual demanded consumption of 600,000 tonnes per year, operating at an average of 200,000 tonnes.
Credit: National Irrigation Authority