Suspension of Thiba Dam works spell doom for rice farmers

More than 300 workers laid off by contractor, Strabag Internationals.

In Summary
  • Government has not remitted money in excess of Sh1 billion thus paralysing operations by the contractor


The site of the Thiba Dam in Rukenya, Gichugu constituency in Kirinyaga county
STALLED; The site of the Thiba Dam in Rukenya, Gichugu constituency in Kirinyaga county
Image: KNA
The site of the Thiba Dam in Kirinyaga county
STALLED; The site of the Thiba Dam in Kirinyaga county
Image: KNA


The suspension of the construction of the Sh20 billion Thiba Dam has disillusioned Mwea rice farmers who had thought their water shortage woes were soon coming to an end.

Authorities say lack of funds from the Treasury was behind the move to suspend works.

More than 300 workers have been laid off by contractor, Strabag Internationals.

The workers, including drivers, said they were asked to go home because the government had not released funds for the dam construction.

“We have been told to go home until further notice because the company has no money to pay us and finance the project,” John Njiraine, a worker said.

Officials from both the national government and Strabag Company have confirmed that the state has not remitted money in excess of Sh1 billion.

But Central regional commissioner Wilfred Nyagwanga said the issue will soon be resolved for construction works to resume.

“It is true the construction has temporarily been suspended due to the problem of resources,” Nyagwanga said. The administrator is the chair of the  National Government Project Implementation Team in the region.

He said he had asked Treasury officials to address the matter.

“Once the problem is addressed, the project will resume in the shortest time possible. We are taking the matter very seriously,” he said.

Nyangangwa said the government was committed to ensuring the project is completed within schedule to enhance boost rice irrigation in Mwea and improve the country’s food security.  

“The problem is further complicated by some of the people who surrendered their land for the construction of the dam, claiming they will come back and repossess their parcels if work is abandoned,” Nyagwanga said.

A Strabag official who is not authorised to speak on behalf of the company said the change of the Cabinet Secretary and the PS have also complicated release of funds.

He said the firm had not received any funds from the state for the last eight months, thus paralysing operations.

"We don’t exactly know what is happening, we are only hoping the dam will not end up like the Kimwarer Dam,” the official said.

Works at the dam were 30 per cent complete. The project was expected to be completed in 45 months, but manager Stephen Mutinda said it was possible t deliver the dam earlier.

Data from the Kenya Bureau of Statistics shows that Kenya imports rice worth  Sh40 billion every year largely from Pakistan, Thailand, India and Vietnam.

The Thiba Dam was expected to reduce that by half by providing enough water to boost rice farming in Mwea. Mwea currently produces about 100,000 tones, 80 per cent of total rice production, without steady water supply.

The rice scheme is fed by direct water flow from Thiba and Nyamindi rivers.

But Thiba Dam will provide a holding ground for water, ensuring controlled flow even during drought.

This is planned to increase normal production by about 100 per cent, meaning 140,000 tones and since the water will double overall area under rice, Mwea is set to produce about 280,000 tons of rice.

There is much more opportunity as by the time the dam is completed, 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.

The construction of the Thiba Dam is being financed in partnership with Japanese Government through Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).

At completion, the dam will be 40 meters tall and 1km 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 July 2020.

Thiba Dam project, officially launched on November 23, 2017 by Presidents Uhuru Kenyatta, is being constructed at Rukenya in Gichugu constituency, about four kilometers from Kutus town, the Kirinyaga county headquarters.

During the launch the President directed that work be completed within the stipulated time.


edited by peter obuya