Kenyan rice farmers are switching to a new technology that is set to double production
The System for Rice Intensification (SRI) developed by the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology is expected to improve production by more than 50 per cent while saving on increasingly scarce water.
Rather than planting a group of seeds together, the new method uses only one seedling per hole with a wider spacing between holes of 25 cm by 25 cm. This saves on inputs as farmers use 25 per cent of seeds used in the conventional paddy system and less fertiliser.
With wider spacing, rice plants get more sunlight, air and nutrients, allowing faster growth of roots and canopies, producing stronger stalks and more tillers.
The new system saves water by about 25 per cent to 50 per cent, allowing for the saved water to be used to expand the production area. Water scarcity has been affecting most rice-growing schemes with frequent rationing affecting production. The situation is expected to worsen with increasing population and climate change.
Use of less water is also expected to reduce water- borne diseases along with Malaria and Bilharzia. Farmers are encouraged to use organic fertilisers rather than synthetic ones to enrich the soil. This further reduces input costs.
One of the disadvantages of the new system, however, is that it requires more weeding since weeds tend to grow more rapidly under un-flooded conditions. But the extra effort is compensated by increased yields of one to two tonnes per hectare.
More than 1,800 farmers have adopted the system which improves yields, grain quality, size and aroma, and uses up to 50 per cent less water than the conventional system.
Rice consumption in Kenya is estimated at 300,000 metric tonnes compared to a consumption of 45,000 to 80,000 metric tonnes. The deficit is met by imports mainly from Asia.