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Rice farmers stare at empty fields as drought bites

A rice farmer in a battered rice field in Ahero, Kisumu County. [Kepher Otieno, Standard]

Elizabeth Omollo, 61, stares at her empty eight-acre rice farm in Nyando rice belt in Kisumu County with sadness.

She has not had a proper rice harvest for the past five years due to a shortage of rainfall. Her main source of water is river Lie Lang'o, which supplies Chiga, Boda and Ambululu rice schemes.

River Lie Lang'o, flows from the foothills of Nandi. Most farmers in the rice belt rely on the river and rainfall for their rice fields but these are now unreliable.

Twin problems

She points out how flood-prone rice areas, whether irrigated or rain-fed, face twin problems of too much water during the wet months and insufficient water during the dry season.

The productivity of the areas could be greatly increased if their drainage problems were resolved, she notes. Pointing at the cracks on the floor of the furrows, she explains where water used to flow into canals.

A canal is a man-made waterway used to transport water for irrigation and other human uses.

Irrigation canals have been used for thousands of years to move water from a source such as a holding tank, stream or reservoir, to the point of use.

Omollo says furrow-irrigated rice farming had increased in acreage in recent years. But now it is no more as the main source of the water supply has dried.

''We are now forced to rely on rainfall which takes months and is at times unpredictable... meaning we cannot grow or plant our crops in good time,'' she explains.

When The Standard visited the Chiga rice schemes, we found a thousand acres of farms lying idle.

The other sources of water from rivers Mahinya and Ayiera areas have also dried up.

To address the situation, the Kisumu county government plans to use Sh300 million to construct canals and rice ponds.

Agriculture and irrigation chief officer Paul Omanga says the county will construct canals on the affected rice schemes around the Nyando rice belt in the lakeside county.

"The project will save water and help farmers improve rice yields," says Omanga, an agronomist.

To effectively control and regulate water, Omanga explains on-farm ditch irrigation and drainage canals must be provided to allow the delivery and application of water paddy by paddy.

In environments where water is in short supply or pumping costs are high, producing rice with furrow irrigation saves water and fuel.

The county is also training rice farmers on new farming techniques, which do not require flooding paddy fields with water.


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