The National Irrigation Board (NIB) now wants the Government to re-examine the taxation regime for imported rice to safeguard local farmers.
The board wants the rice to be taxed more, claiming the imports have created an unfair competitive market thus keeping locally-produced rice off the shelves.
Board chairman Mudzo Nzili and manager Mugambi Gitonga yesterday said the country was in a position to produce enough rice if the board was properly funded.
Board members, who have been on a week-long tour of rice-growing schemes, blamed the imported grain for creating a situation where the country was not producing enough rice to feed its people.
According to Mr Mugambi, Kenya consumes about 450,000 metric tonnes of rice annually but has been producing approximately 120,000 metric tonnes, leaving importers to bridge the difference.
Statistics from NIB indicate that Mwea, which is the largest irrigation scheme in the country, currently produces 80,000 metric tonnes of rice every year, which is half of its projected potential.
The board dismissed claims of poor marketing of Kenyan rice, saying with motivation and restrictions on imported rice, farmers could reap big from the trade.
"If the imported rice is taxed properly, our farmers are able to meet the competition and sell,” said Mugambi.
He added that with the building of Thiba Dam and the introduction of double-cropping, production at the Mwea scheme was likely to double in the next two years.
Mugambi revealed there were plans to triple rice production in Ahero, West Kano and South West Kano irrigation schemes, which currently have about 10,000 acres under production.
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“We are looking into expanding Mwea by 10,000 acres as well. If well exploited, we will produce more than enough rice for our people," he said.
"We have also done a miscibility study and designs for Lower Kuja scheme in Migori County, which also has the potential to produce 80,000 metric tonnes of rice every year.
“We are in discussions with the Government and other stakeholders with the aim of contributing towards the Big Four agenda of food security. We want Kenya to be able to feed itself.”
But even with the ambitious plans, Mr Nzili said funding remained the biggest challenge after the slashing of the boards 2018-2019 budget.
Nzili said improvement of infrastructure and employment of more personnel topped the list of the board’s priorities as they worked to rejuvenate operations.
“The new board would like to respond to food security as one of the Big Four agenda items. Our tours have unearthed a lot of challenges facing farmers, and most of these can only be sorted out through proper funding.”
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The chairman said the board had already approached the Ministry of Agriculture and was negotiating for funding, which would see more land put under rice.
“If there are no supervisors to guide and advise the farmers of new farming methods, then there is a big problem. We have seen the areas that need improvement and we will sit as a board, together with ministry managers, to find a solution.”