Agriculture, Economy

Here Is How We Can Transform Kenyan Rice Farming Learning from Japan’s Success

Last week, I had a rare oppor­tu­ni­ty of vis­it­ing Japan’s tran­quil rice fields in Nara Region and my mind was cap­ti­vat­ed by the trans­for­ma­tive pow­er of rice farm­ing, envi­sion­ing its poten­tial to rev­o­lu­tion­ize Kenyan agri­cul­ture with pros­per­i­ty and sustainability.

Kenyans con­sume rough­ly 1 mil­lion met­ric tons of rice every year. Yet we pro­duce only 180,000 tonnes annu­al­ly. That’s why in the first six months of 2023, Kenya spent Sh39.71 bil­lion to import 702,249 met­ric tonnes of rice. This is more mon­ey than the Ksh32 bil­lion it cost to build the Thi­ka Super­high­way. It’s also suf­fi­cient mon­ey to employ rough­ly 100,000 intern teach­ers. That’s because accord­ing to the 2023–24 Bud­get, TSC was allo­cat­ed Ksh4.8 bil­lion for the recruit­ment of 20,000 intern teachers.

Our over­rid­ing goal should be to pro­duce suf­fi­cient rice to meet our con­sump­tion needs. That means pro­duc­ing at least one mil­lion tons of rice annu­al­ly. Thank­ful­ly, Kenya’s Nation­al Rice Devel­op­ment Strategy‑2 seeks to increase pad­dy rice pro­duc­tion to 1,301,000 MT by 2030. I sug­gest that we tar­get to do so even soon­er, say by 2027 so that we dras­ti­cal­ly reduce our food import bill and re-chan­nel the saved rice import bil­lions towards press­ing nation­al mat­ters like increased teacher employ­ment and con­struc­tion of new high­ways. It is doable!

Our focus must remain, food secu­ri­ty, job cre­ation and nation­al development.

On the mat­ter of food secu­ri­ty, the more rice we pro­duce local­ly, the more we will be immune to glob­al shocks like the Rus­sia-Ukraine war that drove up wheat prices.

How then can we dri­ve up local rice pro­duc­tion? Sim­ple – by increas­ing the quan­ti­ty of our rice farms and by increas­ing the qual­i­ty of farm­ing in those farms.

To give you a sense of how we can increase the qual­i­ty of our rice farm­ing, let me share with you some details about rice farm­ing in Japan.

In 2022, Japan pro­duced near­ly 7.5 mil­lion met­ric tons of rice, which was forty times more than Kenya’s pro­duc­tion, despite Japan being rough­ly three-quar­ters the size of Kenya. With a for­est cov­er of 67%, only 14% of Japan’s land is avail­able for agri­cul­tur­al pur­pos­es. The aver­age rice yield in Japan is approx­i­mate­ly 5 to 6 met­ric tons per hectare, com­pared to Kenya’s 2 to 3 met­ric tons per hectare.

n Nara Pre­fec­ture, I vis­it­ed a col­lec­tive of 30 rice farm­ers with a small fac­to­ry capac­i­ty pro­duc­ing 1.2 tons of rice dai­ly. They also have shared rice har­vesters avail­able for hire dur­ing har­vest season.

This speaks to Japan’s high­ly mech­a­nized pre­ci­sion farm­ing. Such mech­a­nized farm­ing, cou­pled with exten­sive irri­ga­tion sys­tems and high-qual­i­ty seeds enable Japan to har­vest high­er yields per hectare com­pared to Kenya.

Such mech­a­nized, pre­ci­sion farm­ing is pre­cise­ly what Kenya’s rice agri­cul­ture requires. Thank­ful­ly, we’re some­how head­ing in the right direc­tion. The Kenyan Gov­ern­ment aims to expand the area of irri­gat­ed rice farm­ing to 171,676 hectares and seeks to increase pro­duc­tiv­i­ty from 4 tons to 7.5 tons per hectare on these new farms. To achieve this goal, I sug­gest the gov­ern­ment ensures com­plete mech­a­niza­tion, ample irri­ga­tion, and high-qual­i­ty seed availability.

In Japan, I saw medi­um rice har­vesters gath­er about 1,400 kilo­grams in under an hour. The rice, swift­ly dried and milled with­in 14 hours, is mar­ket-ready for Japan’s 120 mil­lion pop­u­la­tion. This effi­cient process enables farm­ers to har­vest and sell their rice with­in 24 hours, with prompt pay­ment following.

Mean­while our very own rice Mwea rice farm­ers some­times wait for almost a year before get­ting paid. What a shame! Which brings me to the issue of mar­ket. The Gov­ern­ment has com­mit­ted to pur­chase all rice pro­duced by Mwea Farm­ers. Even though this is not a per­ma­nent solu­tion, the offer should be extend­ed to all rice farm­ers in Kenya.

Con­sid­er­ing we import near­ly 90 per­cent of the rice we con­sume, a mar­ket for local­ly pro­duced rice should nev­er be an issue. More­over, rice farm­ers must always be assured of pre­mi­um prices, which will moti­vate more Kenyans to embrace rice farm­ing towards a sus­tain­able future. Tua­muke jameni! Think green, act green!

About Dr. Kalua Green

He is the Chief Stew­ard of Green Africa Group, a con­glom­er­ate that was envi­sioned in 1991 to con­nect, pro­duce and impact var­i­ous aspi­ra­tions of human­i­ty through Sus­tain­able Mobil­i­ty & Safe­ty Solu­tions, Eco­pre­neur­ship & Agribusi­ness, Ship­ping & Logis­tics, Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Ini­tia­tives, as well as Hos­pi­tal­i­ty & fur­nish­ings sectors

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