Scientists have developed a hardy new hybrid rice that is rainfed, needs no irrigation, grows fast and does well in drier, maize-growing areas.
Conventional rice requires irrigation and a lot of water.
The new variety is also resistant to devastating rice blast disease.
According to rice breeder John Kimani at the Kenya Agricultural Research Organisation, the new hybrid has preferred traits such as long grain and pleasant aroma.
Very important, it resists rice blast, a major challenge to farmers.
“It can cause up to 80 per cent yield loss,” Kimani said.
In 2008, there was a massive outbreak of rice blast and some farmers had total crop failure. Normally, it can cause between 60-100 per cent loss and it is a very serious threat to rice production in Kenya,” he said.
He spoke during a field visit to Kalro Farm in Alupe, Busia county, on Friday. He witnessed the harvest of the upland rice variety in its second trial.
Kimani said the new variety also matures early. It takes 120 days to mature compared to conventional varieties that take 140-170 days, he said.
It also matures faster than maize, which takes about seven months, especially the highland maize varieties.
Kimani said Kalro in partnership with AATF and Maseno University is developing new rice varieties to increase production and meet the high demand for the produce.
Dr Johnson Irungu, director of crops in the Agriculture ministry, said rice consumption in Kenya has been growing fast since 2008 and is currently 12 per cent. Maize is at one and wheat at three per cent.
He attributed this to rapid urbanisation, need to save energy for cooking and demographic changes.
“Rice consumption is growing at a very high rate, because of better lifestyles. This means better income and the population, especially in rural areas, has embraced rice, because it’s easy to cook and a friendly food. These factors led to the sharp rise in consumption,” Kimani said.
Kenya produces 140,000 metric tonnes per year against a consumption rate of 540,000–600,000 metric tonnes per year.
The deficit of 75 per cent is imported from neighbouring countries, and mostly from Pakistan.