Kenya, a net rice importer, may double production of the grain over the next seven years after introducing a drought-resistant seed variety that thrives in drier environments, the Agriculture Ministry said.
The government is encouraging use of the seed type, known as New Rice for Africa, or Nerica, which may increase output to 178,000 metric tons by 2018 from 80,000 tons, Johnson Irungu, director of crops at the ministry, said in a phone interview yesterday from Nairobi, the capital. So far, about 60 tons of the seed has been distributed, he said.
“This is very low, but we hope that farmers will soon embrace this rice variety,” he said.
Kenya, with a population of 38 million people, consumes 300,000 tons of rice a year, according to the ministry. The shortfall is made up of imports from countries including Pakistan, Thailand, Uganda and Tanzania. The grain is Kenya’s third-biggest staple food, after corn and wheat.
The government has distributed Nerica seeds in the central Mwea area, which produces 80 percent of Kenya’s rice, as well as farmers in the eastern Coastal and western Nyanza provinces under an 8.5 million-shilling ($100,000) program. Nerica yields as much as 5 tons per hectare (2.5 acres), compared with 1.5 to 2 tons produced by domestic varieties on the same size of plot.
Last year, Kenya received a 12.1 billion-shilling loan from Japan to build an irrigation system to boost rice production. The funds were aimed at helping Kenya meet its target of irrigating 30,000 hectares of farmland annually, the Water Ministry said in July.