Changing eating habits and how rice is fast becoming Kenyans’ staple food

Kenya’s consumption of rice has been increasing at a rate of 12 per cent annually, compared to wheat at four per cent and maize at one per cent.

According to Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) report, Technical note: Analysis of price incentives and disincentives for rice in Kenya over the period 2005–2013 published in 2014, the increase is due to progressive change in eating habits.

Kenyans consume an estimated 600,000 tonnes of rice per year, compared to an annual production range of 200,000, going by statistics from the Ministry of Agriculture. About 95 per cent of rice in Kenya is grown under irrigation in paddy schemes managed by the National Irrigation Board (NIB).

There are four NIB schemes in Mwea, Ahero, West Kano and Bunyala where rice is grown. Mwea is  the largest irrigation scheme and accounts for 78 per cent of the irrigated area.

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Gazetted area

Mwea scheme has a gazetted area of 30,350 acres out which 22,000 are under rice with a total of 7,000 households allocated four acres each on which they exclusively grow rice as tenants.

The growing of rice in Mwea started in 1953 when the colonial government conducted trials and ultimately started growing Tebere 2 on 65 acres in 1956.

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The scheme was initially started as a detention camp. The plains were at the times used as a communal grazing ground for people from the neighbouring  districts.

According to a 2014 research, rice consumers in Kenya prefer the aromatic basmati rice, which also has superior cooking qualities compared to the other local and imported varieties.

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Low-income Kenyans however prefer less expensive imported rice.

The annual consumption has grown at an average rate of 11 per cent since 1960, creating a deficit that can only be filled by imports, which too have increased.

In 1960 the rise in consumption of rice averaged 23 per cent and dramatically shot by 53 per cent in the 1980s and 88 per cent in the 1990s.

Labour intensive

Rice growing is a capital and labour intensive enterprise, where on average Mwea Irrigation Scheme charges a farmer Sh12,000 for water or a flat rate of Sh3,000 to irrigate one acre.

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A farmer is then charged Sh3,000 to prepare land for planting and has to buy certified seeds at Sh95 per kilo. An acre requires 25 kilos, costing a total of Sh7,600. When all other costs are factored in, from land preparation, spraying, meaning, harvesting to transport, a farmer will have spent Sh28 to produce a kilo of paddy rice, which if well nurtured will yield 650 grammes of milled rice. Mwea Irrigation Scheme manager Innocent Ariemba says an acre produces an average of 25 kilos or 100 kilos for the four acres allocated to a household.

However, according to JM Ndungu, the Chief Executive Officer of Mwea Rice Growers Co-operative Society, which provides farm inputs and credit facilities to 7,000 rice growers, it takes Sh40 to produce a kilo of rice. Last year the 7,000 farmers produced seven million kilos of milled rice, which they sold to supermarkets, wholesalers, schools, hotels and hospitals.

“The cost of producing one kilo of paddy rice is Sh40. When the society adds Sh20 expenses for milling, transport, and indirect taxes, this pushes the cost to Sh60, which when added to other costs and profit margin means a higher rate,” Ndungu says. The society sells its lowest grade of aromatic rice at Sh135 per kilo, just like the traders at the other mills. 

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RiceFood and Agriculture Organisation