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Rice husks now the new gold in Mwea

SMART HARVEST
By Munene Kamau | June 13th 2015
A lorry being loaded with fodder in Mwea where the commodity is readily available from area rice farmers at a cost of Sh150 per bail. PHOTO: MUNENE KAMAU/STANDARD

KENYA: For years, farmers in Mwea had to contend with disposal of massive rice husks and stalks after harvesting their crop.

But the waste product is slowly turning into some gem. Some creative entrepreneurs have discovered this waste can serve as affordable and nutritious animal feed. Previously, the stalks were burned to ashes within the rice paddies immediately after the harvesting season. The product is being exported to as far as Saudi Arabia. Rose Wairimu is one of the farmers from the vast Mwea Irrigation Scheme, who have discovered this new venture.

Increasing demand

“I realised how farmers were suffering during dry periods to get feed for their animals and so I decided to try making hay bales from the rice stalks. First, I made just a few bales on trial basis using improvised equipment since there was no one with a tractor to make the bales,’’ Wairimu recalls.

She then displayed her commodity along the busy Embu-Mwea road for a wider market. At first, few people were interested but with time, there was more interest.

“Slowly, the business started picking up and attracting more farmers. Now this is a booming business with livestock farmers coming for the feed from as far as Kiambu, Meru, Murang’a, Nyeri, Machakos and Nakuru,’’ Wairimu says. Another farmer who has joined this bandwagon is Julius Ngari who has lived at the expansive scheme since it was started in 1956 .

He is now a happy old man after it became apparent that the rice stalks they have always considered a bother are now bringing in extra cash. Ngari, 80, has enlisted the service of youths who transport the commodity to the point of sale.

“Whenever it is harvest time, I normally pay these boys for their services on daily basis to carry all the rice stalks from my four fields to the main road where balling is undertaken by a tractor. I sit there waiting for buyers who keep flocking and by the time I am going home, I have earned myself quite a fortune for the day,’’ Ngari says.

The farmers says the balling of the rice stalks into hay for sale to livestock farmers has revolutionlised the traditional rice production for better.

Ms Waruare Gachirigua is another beneficiary of the hay business having inherited the rice fields from her late parents. Gachirigua says she able to feed and educate her children and have some surplus from the sale of the rice stalks.

“I pray God that this new business horizon that has opened up for us goes a notch higher to improve the earnings,” she says.

Currently, demand for the rice stalk has outstripped supply since the commodity is only available after a harvest. To meet that increasing demand, the entrepreneurs have now turned on a grass variety which grows on the sides of the irrigation canals within the scheme.

The grass is harvested by youth who in turn sell it to Wairimu and her colleagues and is measured in sacks.

“We buy a sack of the green grass at Sh100 and as you can see we have created temporary job opportunities for these youths who at times are able to deliver to us even ten bags in a day,’’ Wairimu says.

She says since payment is cash on delivery, this has attracted many youth making the supply of the green grass constant.

She says some farmers prefer their feeds to be a mixture of the grass and the rice stalks and this makes it more expensive. Peter wanjohi, is one such a youth who derives his daily bread from this business.

“We use sickles to cut the grass alongside the irrigation canals and since the market for our commodity of trade is ready, on a good day, I make Sh1,000,’’ Wanjohi says. The grass keeps growing since the canals have a constant water flow.

After the green grass is sold to the women, the next step involves drying to some levels before it is baled by the special tractors and stocked ready for sale.

The owners of the tractors are also paid instantly at Sh20 per such a bale. The farmers cum traders then retail at Sh350 per bale. The farmers also engage about 100 youths.

Lucrative

But Kirinyaga County Chief Officer for Agriculture, John Gachingiri, cautions farmers against selling all the rice stalks.

“Farmers should not sell all the rice stalks. Instead, they should burn some in their fields. As the farmer burns the rice stalk in his field, the process releases a mineral to the soil called silica, which is key to rice production. Failing to do that denies the soil crucial nutrients for rice production,’’ the expert warns.

Poor state of the shambas will in the long run lead to low rice production, says Gachingiri. Gachingiri advises the farmers to ensure at least one half of the by-product is burnt in the field to retain the much required silica mineral.

A livestock production officer also cautions farmers of the dangers they expose their animals to by feeding them on grass.

Paul Wagura says although it has a higher nutritive value of up to nine per cent compared to the rice stalks of one per cent, there is the danger of their animals being infested with liver flukes. Wagura says once the animals are infested with this worm, they become emaciated and if not treated they die.

“I advise farmers who feed their animals with this grass from Mwea to ensure they deworm the cows just after the onset of the rains,” Wagura says.

Even with that caution, it is evident this new trend of selling rice husks will be there for sometime. This is because of the rising demand for animal feeds created by the increase of farmers who zero graze, a trend fuelled by factors like land fragmentation and urbanisation.

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