The first locally-bred hybrid rice seed will be available to farmers from next week.
The Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Services (Kephis) has licensed Afritec Seeds Ltd to produce and distribute the seed whose potential in farm trials is up to 65 per cent more than ordinary rice.
Western Kenya Afritec Seeds Ltd Manager Ken Asango said 10 tonnes of the seed dubbed AT058 or ‘Atieno’ had been registered by Kephis awaiting official launching and release into the market in Kisumu, Migori, Kirinyaga, Busia and Homa Bay counties.
Trials in Ahero and West Kano irrigation schemes showed that the variety yields up to 35 bags of rice per acre compared to between 15 and 20 produced by the traditional rice variety.
This could be good news for smallholder farmers who have previously cited lack of access to quality seeds as one of their biggest challenges.
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Already, about 50 farmers who tried the seed under supervision by Afritec raked in Sh40,000 per acre.
The main advantage of the new variety is that it can be grown in any part of the country all year round. It is also said to be resistant to common rice diseases.
Mr Asango said if adapted by farmers in the target regions, the seed had the potential to increase domestic supply by up to 60 per cent. He said although the firm’s seed invention would not make the country self-sufficient in rice production, it would lower the costs incurred in importing it.
“We can make a dent in the rice import bill; we can add 50 or 60 per cent to total production, which would bring us down from 80 per cent in imports to 70 per cent,” he said.
According to data by the National Irrigation Board (NIB), Kenyans consume 540,000 tonnes of rice against local production of 150,000 tonnes; the deficit is covered by imports.
Asango said small-scale farming, occasioned by lack of large joint tracts of land, was one of the main drawbacks to self-sufficiency in rice production. He said locally manufactured Mavuno fertiliser, customised for rice, was recommended for the ‘Atieno’ variety.
Afritec is also working in Mwea, where trials for a variety the firm believes will replace the area’s famous pishori have been concluded awaiting approval by Kephis. The firm is working on over 180 varieties that will be released into the market once approved.
Afritec is a beneficiary of a £500,000 (Sh63.6 million) grant from the British government, through the FoodTrade Eastern and Southern Africa programme – a five-year trade enhancement and promotion programme focusing on staple food crops.
NIB maintains that the Lake Victoria Basin can produce enough rice to feed the country and leave surpluses for export. The agency plans to increase rice production eight-fold by turning up to 743,032 acres of land in the former Nyanza and Western provinces as well as parts of the Rift Valley into irrigated rice farms, in an ambitious plan that could take years to implement.