Rice farming was introduced in Meru in 2012. Initially, the venture was profitable but now farmers are counting loses
Lack of a market, poor roads and unscrupulous brokers have become the biggest obstacles to rice farming in Meru.
According to rice farmers in the region, despite huge volumes of the commodity being produced annually, the returns are low because of difficulties involved in searching for a market.
Rice farming was introduced in Meru County in 2012. Some of the sub-counties where high production has been noted are Imenti South, Imenti North, Tigania East and Tigania West.
According to county agriculture officials, these areas collectively produce 300 tonnes of rice annually.
Some of the farmers who have suffered lack of access to good markets said they are forced to sell their produce at throwaway prices.
They said they use water from the Kiorimba-Machegene Irrigation Scheme and Muungano water project to produce their crop.
The farmers who were interviewed said when they began production in 2012, with support from the national government, they had access to markets countrywide.
But presently, returns are low with the lack of a market. Most said they were now only growing rice for consumption.
"When rice was first introduced in Meru, many farmers took up the crop. The irrigation projects and good soils were favourable for farming. The national government was also helpful. It gave us good Nerica seeds. There were markets and we made money," said Reuben Kamandu, a farmer from Machegene area.
"We sold it to brokers at between Sh60 and Sh70 a kilogramme initially. But at some point, the prices dropped because of unscrupulous brokers and bad roads that made it impossible for us to take the produce to markets."
Two other farmers, Cyprian Gitonga and Joel Gautia who still grow the popular Nerica type, said they earned significant amounts of money from it at the beginning.
That was before brokers swarmed the area and bad roads made it impossible to transport it to markets.
"We produced very large amounts of rice in the initial seasons. The good money we earned inspired us to double our efforts. But now we sell a little only to our neighbours who no longer grow it. We sell a kilo for Sh50 or even less," said Mr Gitonga.
"When it rains even accessing the local market is a nightmare," he said.
Kiugu Karwitha, the County Executive for Natural Resources was instrumental in putting up rice production projects in Kiorimba, Tigania West.
Prof Kiugu, an agricultural expert said in an interview yesterday that rice is nutritious and sweet.
She said it was up to the farmers to look for a market for their produce.
In 2018, the county government bought farming equipment to help farmers who had ventured into rice farming