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Boost to rice production as work begins on new Okana Scheme

A man manually drains water out of rice seedlings in a nursery at Okana Irrigation Scheme. [Kevine Omollo, Standard]

Income from rice production in Nyando, Kisumu County, is set to increase by Sh400 million annually following the operationalisation of the new 3,000-acre Okana Scheme.

The scheme was set up by the National Irrigation Authority (NIA) early this year to expand rice production in the Nyando belt. A spot check by The Standard revealed that work has already begun at the scheme, with many farmers finalising land preparation ahead of planting.

“Many farmers have their seedlings ready, and we hope we will begin planting in two weeks,” said Jared Otieno, a farmer, who is looking to have two acres under production in the scheme’s pilot phase.

Ombura Odoro, another farmer, said the swamp opening is a huge economic boost, especially now when joblessness has hit the country.

“From our discussions with NIA, this is a pilot stage, and we expect that more benefits will come with subsequent years,” he said.

For over three decades, rice farming within the swamp has been a preserve of few who have been operating as outgrowers.

Most of the land that stretches into Muhoroni, Nyando, and Kisumu East sub-counties has been used as a grazing field and sometimes an open field for fishing.

Last year, NIA did a study that revealed that the vast land could boost rice production in the area.

According to Western Kenya Schemes manager Joel Tanui, once fully implemented, the project will rake in at least Sh200 million every harvesting season, among other benefits during off-season farming.

“With 3,000 acres under irrigation, this is a massive economic boost to the farmers in the area,” he said.

The operationalisation of the scheme comes barely two months after stakeholders agreed over land ownership and modes of collaboration. 

Earlier, farmers were cagey about the project, thinking that they would lose their land if enrolled in the scheme.

“From our timeline, we expected the farmers to begin production by June this year, and have their first harvest before the end of the year. And despite the short delay, we hope to achieve something,” said Tanui.

He said that the authority has already distributed Sh1.5 million worth of rice seeds and 21,000 bags of fertilizer worth Sh2.3 million for a startup.

The authority has also completed a water supply mechanism which has seen the farmers connected to water.

Western Kenya Irrigation Schemes, which include Ahero, West Kano, Mbega, Kobongó and South West Kano produce non-aromatic IR rice varieties. 

According to NIA, the area under irrigation is 13,098 acres with 7,870 farmers enrolled.

The schemes can produce 31,435 metric tons of paddy rice every season, valued at Sh1.4 billion, with each financial year having two production seasons. In 2019, NIA embarked on an expansion plan of the Ahero scheme to areas such as Mbega and Kobong’o schemes.

Following the expansion, a total of 2,500 acres of land is under irrigation.

In Mbega, farmers have fully taken up rice production to more than 1,200 acres, while in Kobong’o, farmers are involved in the horticultural production of crops such as green grams.

Okana Swamp now becomes the sixth irrigation scheme within Western Kenya Irrigation Schemes.

Its expansion, however, comes when rice farmers face a lack of market with paddy remaining unsold for several months.

Ahero Multipurpose Farmers Society Chairman Emmanuel Juma says the Kenya National Trading Corporation (KNTC), which has been the main buyer of their rice, has since stopped taking the rice.

But he is hopeful that with the expansion, the government will look for more markets to encourage farmers who are venturing into rice farming, to save them from cartels, mostly from Uganda.

“When supplying KNTC, farmers sell their rice at Sh45 per kilo of paddy. But the local consumers and the unregulated buyers from Uganda take the same rice for Sh30 per kilo of paddy,” said Juma.

According to KNTC depot manager Tony Nalianya, the corporation operates on a revolving fund, in which they buy rice from farmers and sell it before they can buy from farmers again.

He, however, noted that the slowed disposal of the already acquired rice has hampered further purchase from farmers.

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