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Worse times ahead as Mwea faces acute water shortage

BUSINESS
By | August 11th 2009

By Moses Njagih and Munene Kamau

The sweet Pishori rice from Mwea has in the recent past been in the decline, both at shop counters and in the vast fields of the Tebere land.

With this, prospects of improved food security are dimming, as rice, considered second staple food after maize, is in short supply.

Mwea Irrigation Scheme is facing harsh times owing to an acute water shortage that experts now warn could kill rice farming in the area within five years.

As a result, farming at the giant scheme is severely affected with only about 7,000 of the approximately 16,000 acres meant for paddy is prepared with the planting season barely weeks away.

Farmers are pessimistically weighing their options, as water levels in Thiba and Nyamindi rivers, which supply irrigation canals, are worrying.

And the management, like farmers, is worried that unless a solution to the perennial water shortage is found, rice production will significantly take a dip.

Scheme Manager Simon Mwangi Kamundia says although a donor has set aside Sh10 billion for the construction of a main reservoir, a section of farmers have opposed the project.

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He said Japan International Corporation Agency (JICA) has, in addition to construction of a reservoir, offered to rehabilitate canals that serve the scheme.

"Construction of the dam at Rukenya is facing opposition from farmers who do not want the reservoir there. Our worry is that unless we have a constant supply of water, the scheme will soon be no more? Mr Kamundia said.

In an interview with The Standard at his Wanguru Market office, the manager said overdependence on rain-fed irrigation has proved dangerous, calling for sustainable measures at the scheme.

Hold on stock

He said: "We will have to get constant water supply and the reservoir idea is the most ideal way to go since water from the two main rivers cannot sustain meaningful production".

Several private rice millers have also closed down their businesses and decided to hoard the little grain they have in store for a rainy day.

"We have little or no milling at all since there is very little paddy available. We have decided to hold on to what we have since the coming season is likely to fail due to lack of rain," says Nancy Wairimu, a miller in Ngurubani Market.

Yesterday, Kamundia warned that although available water could sustain the 7,000 acres, the situation could change overnight for the worse. And some farmers are up in arms already.

"My seedlings are almost ready for transplanting, but the nursery has dried up. How can I transplant the seedlings without water?" poses James Mwaniki, a farmer at Thiba.

Mwaniki says he prepared his land early enough for planting, "but the land is now just dry mud of clay soil due to lack of flooding water," he said.

Fist fights

Business people in the region are also worried their businesses could be affected if nothing changes to better the situation.

"There is no land to plough, no inputs to supply and no casual employment. The situation is that serious and every sector is being affected," Kamundia says.

The scheme and the out growers (informal) comprise of about 20,000 farmers while the scheme was designed to serve only 3,000 farmers.

As a result, farmers frequently engage in fist fights for the little available water at Thiba. The section is the only one receiving some trickle of the precious commodity .

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