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New life beckons for Ahero irrigation scheme

CARTOON
By | January 10th 2010

By Anderson Ojwang’

A programme initiated by the Government last year has injected fresh life into the Ahero rice irrigation scheme in Nyando District that stalled over 10 years ago.

Supported by funding from the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations, the programme has put at least 10,000 acres under rice, and farmers at the scheme recorded bumper harvest.

The money paid for seeds, fertilisers, pesticides, labour, preparing the land and pumping water into the irrigation channels.

While farmers now have to conquer the challenges of storage, marketing the crop and floods, their lot has improved compared to the years when poverty stalked their lives daily.

Heavy rains have pounded the area over the last three weeks, submerging some farms, and some of the harvested rice stalks were washed into Lake Victoria.

PRICES

Last year the retail price of a bag of rice was Sh5,500, but has since fallen to Sh3,500.

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Mr Joshua Ouma, a farmer said the drastic drop can be traced to the absence of drying and storage facilities.

The farmers, faced with bills to pay, including school fees, have opted to sell most of what they harvested.

"We are happy with the Government’s intervention, but we are now faced with the problem of marketing and storage. We appeal to the Government to find a way helping us solve the problem," says Ouma.

National Irrigation Board Regional Manager for Western Kenya, Mr Abdi Hassan Ahmed says the scheme now stands a good chance of making a full recovery.

One acre produces 35-47 bags of Basmati rice and 20-29 of Sindano, up from the previous average of eight bags per acre. "This season has been a very good one and farmers are having bumper harvest. We have been having rains and constant supply of water. Farmers were motivated to plant," he says.

They have also been encouraged to form groups to market their rice.

Linking them to the National Cereals and Produce Board that buys Basmati rice has also helped.

"A 90-kg sack of rice should fetch Sh4,800, but middlemen are buying it at Sh2000 and exploiting the farmers," says Ahmed, who wants to see the

INCREASED ACREAGE

Dr Paul Omanga, a FAO consultant, says the objectives of increasing the area under irrigation for maize and rice for sustained food production, and rehabilitating infrastructure for irrigation have been achieved.

He says the expected rice yield this year for the district is 75,000 bags, with 600 acres already harvested, but wants the Government to provide storage facilities and help farmers secure markets for their rice.

Meanwhile, the rehabilitation of facilities is crucial to rice output in developing countries, the World Bank (WB)has said.

The repair and rehabilitation of typhoon-damaged irrigation facilities must be undertaken to ensure that the shortfall in paddy-rice production will not widen in 2010.

A report of the WB released Postdisaster Needs Assessment (PDNA) said rice farmers’ losses worldwide could rise to between $30 billion to $47.5 billion this year if structural damages irrigation facilities will not be addressed.

"To prevent further losses in coming dry season harvests, rice farmers should be able to plant early," the report added.

"The loss in rice production rises when probable losses in 2010 due to damages in irrigation infrastructure are included, underscoring the need for action on irrigation reconstruction," it added.

The bank said to reconstruct damaged irrigation systems, Governments must step up efforts to contain the effects of the current El-Nino like rains.

—Additional reporting from Businessmirror.com

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