NYANGANDE, KENYA: It is a sunny Friday morning, and Monica Awino spreads her rice in the sun to dry at her Nyang’ande home in Nyando, Kisumu County.
For over two decades, Awino had toiled and prayed for better harvest, in vain.
The last two seasons however have seen her prayers shift from better harvest to reliable market, after bumper harvest courtesy of a new technology dubbed System for Rice Intensification (SRI).
The system, borrowed from Mwea Irrigation Scheme involves intensive utilization of water, where farmers have equal access of the limited commodity for a particular number of days, and give it away to other farmers, and the cycle continues.
The system also promotes mechanization, use of certified seeds and intensive sensitization which has seen the likes of Awino embrace team work, in terms of planning right from land preparation, planting, harvesting and marketing.
Three plots away from Awino’s is Jack Otange, 30, who has been in the trade for 10 years. The young farmer has three quarter of an acre, and last week harvested 32 bags of paddy rice, a big improvement from the 10 bags he used to get.
Just like Awino, he planted a hybrid seed, Arize 644, which has become the scheme’s preferred rice variety in the recent past.
“I have dried my rice and just waiting for sales. We have information that the price per kilo of paddy has dropped to Sh32, but we have no other option, since we can’t keep the produce for long,” he said.
His sentiments are echoed by Austin Abuto, whose 1.1 acre piece earned him 50 bags. Abuto who has been in the trade since 1992 says the fortune has revived people’s hopes in rice farming.
“I first ventured into the trade in 1992, but I pulled out after it proved not viable. But five years ago, with the news of improved farming techniques, I got back to the farm, and I do not regret,” he said.
And just like the rest, Abuto is worried by the low prices coming with the bumper harvest.
“We had agreed that this season the price of paddy would move from the previous Sh37 to Sh40 per kilo. But things have worsened, with the price dropping to Sh33,” he said.
The trio are some of the over 80 farmers at Siany CC3, an out grower rice scheme in Kisumu County, who are counting blessings after implementing modern farming techniques with the scheme becoming a model farm standing tall between over 40 outgrower schemes in the county.
When The Standard visited the scheme on Friday, there was a myriad of activities at the 100-acre scheme which has since become a model farm.
Harvesting was at the peak, with women hitting the dry rice husks to shed off paddy, while young men ferrying sacs of paddy to the drying areas and to the store as farmers ponder about their next move.
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Others were in the open fields drying their paddy, while others were busy recording their harvests in the books as with scheme management.
All these benefits however seems to be turning to curses due to lack of market. This has seen middlemen penetrate the farms with Ugandan businessmen who are taking advantage of the already disadvantaged farmers.
“Since I started rice farming in 1993, I have never harvested above 15 bags per acre, but there has been some positive change since 2016 where the harvest jumped to 40 bags,” said Awino.
Last season, the Ugandan traders were offering Sh37 per kilo of paddy, which the farmers considered low, but there are fears that this price may go lower with improved harvest.
“But do we have options? The stores we use here are not up to the standards, and our produce may not be safe there for long. We will have to dispose the produce to avoid wasting them since we are also in need of money for other domestic needs and preparation for the next planting season,” said Otange.
In 2015, a group of farmers from the scheme visited Mwea Irrigation Scheme in Kirinyaga County for benchmarking which would change farming for the better.
“We realised that apart from lack of uniformity, our people had not embraced the spirit of mechanisation due to the small size of parcels here,” said Dr Paul Omanga, who was part of the tour.
Omanga would later mobilize farmers through Nyabon, a technical advisory team implementing farm mechanization at the scheme, organize them into four blocks, making it easy to pull resources and seek the assistance of other players.
According to Dr Omanga, outgrower farmers have had no proper infrastructure, with most of them relying on rain-fed agriculture, and using traditional methods of farming.
And with lack of support from the relevant government agencies, they have had little knowledge of the changing trends in farming, with most of them recycling seeds, and avoiding the use of fertilizer in a bid to reduce the cost of production.
“Convincing farmers to come together was not an easy task, and the first season saw only 50 acres of land put into use. In the second season, there were 25 more acres, and today the entire scheme lying on 100 acres is utilized,” said Omanga.
This phenomenon has pushed the harvest, with farmers like Awino lacking space in their houses to store the produce, and have since come together to construct a makeshift store at Nyang’ande Market.
The marketing challenge may worsen when the farmers roll out two harvests per season, which Omanga said they have been looking into in order to economically maximize the use of the scheme.
“We are now looking into bringing in the National cereals and Produce Board to consider taking our rice so that farmers do not have to live at the mercy of the middlemen after toiling to revive the dwindling rice production,” he added.