(InformAfrica) — As Kenya’s government grapple with the problem of feeding its citizens there is a sleeping giant in the Mwea irrigation scheme that has the capacity of feeding thousands of Kenyans but it has hardly been exploited. The scheme was introduced before independence but nothing has been improved to make it match with the changing times in the modern world.
The Mwea irrigation scheme covers a total of 24,000 hectares in the lower parts of Kirinyaga County where the farmers mostly grow Pishori aromatic rice through irrigation with direct water from river Nyamindi and river Thiba.
The water from the two rivers is not enough to feed the entire Mwea irrigation scheme and this force the farmers to grow rice o rotational basis with each section growing the all important commodity once per year.
The scheme is fed with water by canals that were constructed in the late 50’s in order to boost rice production in the region but after the liberalization of the rice farming in the year 2000, the canals and other accompanying infrastructure have since been vandalized by some individuals for selfish gains at the expense of other farmers according to the manager national irrigation board (NIB) Mr. Hosea Wendot.
Mr. Wedot added that the vandalism has led to misuse of water and poor management of the important natural resource which is the lifeline of thousands of residents in the mwea irrigation scheme.
However this is set to change after the World Bank allocated 350 million shillings to repair and improve the existing infrastructure whereas the Japanese government has invested 12 billion shillings meant to expand the scheme to cover 48,000 hectares which is double the current acreage.
Part of the money will be used to compensate 300 families in Gichugu after their eviction to get land to build a dam which will supply water to the expanded Mwea irrigation scheme as well as open up new areas for irrigation.
After the completion of the project this will double the production of rice as well as ensure that rice is grown throughout the year which will see rice farmers in the scheme get more from their rice.
Area Member of Parliament Peter Gitau said that although the liberalization of the rice sector has seen farmers benefit, it also has it challenges because it took a lot of time before stabilizing and further cited marketing problems of rice.
Gitau added that the Mwea Farmers sacco owes rice farmers a total of 1.45 billion shillings in arrears further affecting their farming businesses.
Gitau further called on the government to strengthen rice marketing and in future buy rice for the strategic grain reserve to be used during famine.
Speaking at Sagana National cereals and produce board managing director prof. Gedeon Misoi said that NCPB will buy rice from farmers in future to ensure that farmers are not exploited by middlemen.
The rice farming in Mwea has boosted the growth and expansion of the town which has grown tremendously in the recent times and it is expected to grow even more after the expansion of the rice scheme.
According to Charles Njiru a leading rice miller in Mwea rice business is good and doing well. Njiru added that he charges two shillings per kilo for milling rice in his company Nice rice millers.
Njiru said that the company has an installed capacity of milling 3 million tonnes per month but currently mills 50 tonnes in a good day and exuded confidence that private millers will handle the large production after the rice growing region is expanded.
Njiru adds that he has employed more than a hundred workers in his company directly and created employment to thousands of rice farmers and businesspeople in Mwea and other towns in Kenya.
-By Jane Mugambi