Rice imports hurt booming Mwea trade

Supervisor Henry Mwaura and Lucy Wambui at the Mwea Rice Mills, Kirinyaga, on Thursday /AGATHA NGOTHO
Supervisor Henry Mwaura and Lucy Wambui at the Mwea Rice Mills, Kirinyaga, on Thursday /AGATHA NGOTHO

Rice farmers in Mwea are losing

up Sh4, 000 due to flooded cheap rice from Asia.

John Kihonge, Mwea Rice Mills manager said farmers in Mwea are having to compete with cheap rice imports which are selling three time less than the local rice.

He said while the local pishori rice is selling at Sh6,500, imported rice from Asia is selling between Sh2,000 to Sh2,500 per 50kg bag.

Farmers from Mwea area in Kirinyaga County provide 80 percent of the rice consumed locally, but they are losing out and not benefiting much due to the imported rice which is three times cheap than the local rice. This is despite the fact that Kenya's pishori rice is of good quality unlike the imported one,” he said.

Kihonge said the cost of electricity for milling rice is high and milling a kilo of rice costs about five shillings.

Our electricity bill is at Sh800,000 a month and we have a milling capacity of 40 tonnes per day and we mill for nine to ten hours daily,” said Kihonge.

According to the ministry of agriculture, in 2017 the country produced 102, 400 metric tonnes of rice against a demand of 538,370 mts, while the deficit is at 425, 570 mts.

Innocent Ariemba, Mwea Rice Scheme manager said the expected harvest this year is about 115,000 mts due to the good rains. "Total rice production from Mwea is 80,000 metric tonnes and 26,000 acres of land is currently under rice production in the area," he said.

The Economic Survey 2018, showed that an additional 7,363 hectares of land was placed under rice irrigation in 2017, representing a 50 per cent increase. This was largely attributable to the expansion of acreage in the out grower areas within the Mwea irrigation scheme.

“Similarly, the number of plot holders practicing irrigation rose by 25.1 per cent to 16,326 in 2017. Despite the increase in the area cropped and the increase in the number of plot holders, the volume of total paddy declined by 20.0 per cent from 90.7 thousand tonnes to 81.2 thousand tonnes in 2017.This resulted to a 22.5 per cent decrease in gross value of output from all scheme areas to Sh4.4 billion in the review period,” the survey stated.

But despite the poor rice prices, the once sleepy town of Mwea is now a thriving town eking Sh7 billion annually, thanks to the booming rice business. Statistics

from the National Irrigation Board shows that rice business in Mwea is valued at Sh7 billion, with farmers earning Sh5 billion annually from the sale of paddy.

Ariemba said the trade for hay which began two years ago is now big business in Kirinyaga County and is valued at Sh400 million.

Broken rice and other byproducts including rice husks are worth Sh1.5 billion annually. In total, about Sh7 billion circulates within Mwea town annually,” said Ariemba while speaking to the media during a field visit to the Mwea Rice Scheme, which benefits more than 7,000 farmers in Kirinyaga County..

He said rice farming has also led to the upsurge of small rice mills. In 1969, there was only the Mwea Rice Mill but today, there are about 15 rice mills.

New dam to double income

Ariemba said once the Sh20 billion Mwea Thiba Dam is complete, farmers will be able to double rice production from the current 80,000 mt to 160,000 mt.

It will also increase the income from Sh7 bullion to Sh14 billion annually,” he said.

Eng Stephen Mutinda, Thiba Dam project manager said construction of the dam commenced in March this year and so far they have been able to mobilise equipment and staff with majority being locals.

We have also done 99 percent of compensation to the residents that were moved to pave way for the dam. The dam should be complete within three years,” he said. About 70 percent of construction of the camp and office building have been complete.

In December 2017, President Uhuru Kenyatta launched the Sh20 billion dam aimed at doubling production of rive in the Mwea irrigation Scheme which provides 80 percent of the locally produce rice in Kenya.

WATCH: The latest videos from the Star