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Rice farmers eye better yield with hybrid seeds

 Grace Okello at her rice farm in Bunyala. [Olivia Odhiambo, Standard]

When she ventured into rice farming more than ten years ago, Grace Okello was optimistic that the crop would be the game-changer to transform her economic fortunes.

And like the other farmers, she focused on the local seeds that most farmers in Bunyala and its environs have always relied on.

After several years of registering low yield as a result of the traditional seeds, Okello is now walking a new path as she bets on new hybrid seeds.

She is among several farmers in the region who have shifted their attention to new hybrid seeds that promise better investment returns.

The Cereal Growers Association and the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) provision of hybrid seeds aims to boost food security through rice production.

When The Standard caught up with her at her 0.4-acre farm at Bunyala Irrigation Scheme, she was busy inspecting her rice crop.

She says she first tried hybrid variety in a pilot project in 2022 after receiving hybrid seed donations to replace the old variety seeds she had always relied on.

Ms Okello did the first hybrid rice farming on 0.4 acres of land and got 26 bags each 90 kilograms.

She says at that time, luckily prices were good in the market, they would sell at Sh55 per kilogram and she was able to get Sh150,000.

"I used the money to hire another land which I used for planting hybrid variety again. I am hopeful that I am going to get even higher yields this time round," she says.

Ms Okello says initially she used local variety because she was unable to access the hybrid seeds.

"I would get poor yields. Especially during the seasons when we have water problems. You know local variety seeds need a lot of water on the farm. They only do well when there is water availability, "she explains.

She adds: "For example, one time I got 117 bags from a 3.7 acres land. If I had used hybrid seeds,I would have gotten over 180 bags."Some of the hybrid variety seeds that have been released in Kenya and farmers are using are AH18007, AH18004, AH18003 and Pwani gold among others.

Another farmer from Ahero Irrigation Scheme Bernard Odhiambo who has been farming rice for over 25 years says they produced very little yields when they began farming years ago.

However, with the introduction of a new hybrid variety, there is a great improvement with farmers now getting over 60 bags of rice harvest up from 25 bags.

The Project manager of the Cereal Growers Association Oswald Miriti says farmers take a lot of time to adopt new innovations but a majority are slowly adopting the new hybrid seeds.

In Mwea, the association has started to introduce the new variety and farmers are already embracing it."With these varieties, we are currently productivity has currently increased by over 30 per cent and we expect to talk to more farmers. We are currently thinking of technologies on planting as well, seeding and harvesting to make sure they are in this business of rice farming," he says.

African Agricultural Technology Foundation's Dr Kayode Sanni who leads the rice program of the Institute says they are working with hybrids released commercially in Kenya.

He says that currently there are ten hybrids that can give up to ten tonnes per hectare whereas farmers usually get four to five tonnes per hectare.

He says this in turn translates to high income for farmers and reduces the cost of production which also makes locally produced rice competitive in the market with imported rice in terms of quality and cost of production.

"We are comparing the hybrids with the best inbreed nationally available currently and we are getting a yield advantage of over two to three tonnes extra. That means during packing you are talking about 20 to 30 extra bags," he explains. He argues that in the national rice development strategy of Kenya, the target is to reach seven tonnes per hectare by 2030 and with the use of hybrid rice, there is every tendency to rise above that by 2025 if Hybrid technology is well adapted with the full government backup.Kennedy Ouma Manager of West Kenya Irrigation Scheme says rice farmers from western Kenya still prefer old variety seeds because of the manageable prices.He, however, notes that hybrid variety is good because it records higher yields.

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