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Meru farmers express disappointment at poor rice prices

By Phares Mutembei | March 16th 2020
Rice farmers in different parts of Meru want assistance to market the produce similar to support accorded to coffee and other high-value crops.
Farmers said despite allocating land for rice farming, they were yet to get good prices.
The rain-fed rice production was introduced in South Imenti, North Imenti, Tigania East and Tigania West over an area of 300 acres where farmers have managed an average yield of 300 tons per year.
Hundreds of rice farmers in Tigania West Sub County, for instance, said they are forced to sell it at a throwaway price due to lack of capacity to fetch good prices.
Since 2009, the farmers relied on the water from Kiorimba-Machegene Irrigation Scheme and Muungano water project to produce large volumes, for sale and for subsistence.
The farmers said the initiative, partly supported by the national government brought them good money and ensured they lacked no food.
Now lack of market and poor roads have hit the rice production in Tigania West, with many of them reduced to growing it for domestic consumption.
"When we started growing rice, hundreds of locals came on board. Rice farming was unknown here, but the irrigation projects and good soils, coupled with quality Nerica rice seeds we got from the national government, gave us a lot of rice and good money. We sold it to brokers at between Sh60 and Sh70 a kilogram initially. But at some point, the prices dropped because of the unscrupulous brokers, and bad roads that made it impossible for us to take it to Meru town," said Reuben Kamandu, from Machegene.
"We had the good fortune of getting the support of IFAD to do the irrigation. Tharaka Nithi senator Kithure Kindiki was instrumental in setting up the Muungano water project which benefits residents on the Meru and Tharaka sides," Kamandu said.
Rice farming is done in Machegene, Kiorimba, Kaboto near the Meru-Tharaka border, and other areas.
Cyprian Gitonga and Joel Gautia, who still grow the popular Nerica type, said they earned significant amounts of money from it at the beginning, before brokers swarmed the area and bad roads which made it impossible to transport it to markets with huge demand.
"We produced very large amounts of rice in the initial seasons. The good money we earned inspired us to double our efforts. Selling a kilo at Sh70 meant we had enough money to support our children's education. Though many were discouraged because of the drop in prices, many of us still grow it, but mainly for our own use. We sell a little to neighbors who no longer grow it, at Sh50 and even lower," said Mr. Gitonga.
While distributing the Sh3.9 million hulling equipment in September 2018, Governor Kiraitu said that rice farming in the county would go a long way to boost food production and alleviation of hunger.
Governor Kiraitu's administration bought rice hullers, equipment to assist farmers to remove husks from the produce after harvesting.
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