• Thiba Dam project, once completed by December this year, will reliably double rice cropping season.
• The project will also expand rice production area by 10,000 acres in Mutithi section.
Residents of Mwea have praised the government and President Uhuru Kenyatta for initiating Thiba Dam and Wanguru Stadium projects.
Through area MP Kabinga Wachira, they said the two projects will have a turnaround effect on residents, hence they have a reason to be grateful. He said apart from the two projects, Wanguru town is getting a facelift after the President ordered the tarmacking of its roads.
"When the President visited Mwea early last year, he found the town in a very dilapidated situation, the stadium was flooded and roads were impassable,” Wachira said.
He said residents will forever be grateful for the transformation.
"Thiba Dam project, once completed by December this year, will reliably double rice cropping season. Currently, this is constrained by vagaries of the weather,” Wachira said.
He said the project will also expand rice production area by 10,000 acres in Mutithi section, double rice production from the current 120,000 tonnes to over 250,000 tonnes, thus supporting the Big Four agenda, specifically the achievement of food and nutritional security.
The dam project was launched on November 23, 2017, by President Uhuru Kenyatta at Rukenya in Gichugu, about four kilometres from Kutus town—the Kirinyaga county headquarters.
Wachira said the water reservoir will also triple Mwea rice economy from the current Sh9 billion to over 20 billion, saving on the current expenditure on foreign currency through reduced imports.
Further benefits, though not very pronounced, include the provision of piped drinking water to Wamumu, Thiba, Kangai and Mutithi through Tana Water Works Development Agency following the successful lobbying of the redesigning of the dam, he said.
Initially, the dam was meant to provide irrigation water, but now residents will also get drinking water.
"The unique thing, which is evident, is that these projects have started and will be completed at a time most similar projects have stalled across the country,” the legislator said.
Data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics show that Kenya imports rice worth about Sh40 billion every year, largely from Pakistan, Thailand, India and Vietnam.
It is estimated that with the completion of Thiba Dam, this amount will be reduced by half or even more if it succeeds in improving more water to allow three seasons of rice production per year, unlike the current one season.
Mwea Rice Irrigation Scheme manager Innocent Ariemba said while the current production in a good season is about 100,000 to 120,000 tonnes or about 80 per cent of Kenyan total rice production, it has been achieved without dedicated water flow.
He said the scheme is fed by direct water flow from Thiba and Nyamindi rivers without a dam.
"But Thiba dam will provide a holding ground for water, ensuring controlled flow even during the times of lower rainfall,” Ariemba said.
He said there is much more opportunity as by the time the dam is finished, ongoing research on better yielding rice is likely to have reached the farm level.
"Rice farms are also likely to be more mechanised by then. The storage of rice will have improved, eliminating post-harvest losses,” Ariemba said.
He said more farmers will also be educated on modern farming methods to boost harvests. On the global stage, Kenya production has been significantly low. For instance, while Kenya produces on average four tonnes of rice per 2.5 acres, Egypt produces double that at eight tonnes, while Vietnam produces six tonnes, the same as China, Pakistan and India.
Ariemba said rice imports yield the same tonnage as local production, according to data aggregator index, which, therefore, means Kenya has a very big opportunity to become self-sufficient in rice if it can increase its yields per acre.
He said the dam project will also help in the stabilisation of the irrigation water supply, allowing double cropping with the area under irrigation increasing from 25,000 to 35,000 acres.
The project is being financed in partnership with the Japanese government through the Japan International Cooperation Agency.
At completion, it will be 40 metres tall and one-kilometre-long and is expected to have a holding capacity of 15 million cubic meters.
The construction was initially expected to take three years and seven months, meaning it would have been completed by around July 2020.
Kenya produces 100,000 tonnes of rice annually which is not enough to meet the local demand of 500,000 tonnes.