The Kano Plains, in Kenya's western Nyanza Province, are well known for rice production, but after years of poor prices and competition from imports, farmers are gradually switching to more profitable crops such as maize
"I am happy because when you look at my maize farm, you can see my family can forget hunger for the next year," said Jack Osoro, who grew rice for more than 20 years before making the switch to maize.
"The harvests will be good and I can eat and sell some to pay school fees for my children."
He added: "As years passed and the government neglected rice farmers, we became poorer than even those who didn't till their farms, because it was expensive to buy farm inputs and we lost everything to rich
At her two hectare farm, Emily Ominde is harvesting millet; she has already harvested 28 50-kg bags of maize. Ominde still grows rice, but has increased her income by growing other crops during non-rice planting
"You can't plant rice throughout the season, so I decided, instead of leaving my farm idle, I would plant maize and millet on it as I waited for another rice planting season," she said. "By the time I finish harvesting my maize and millet, I will have about 40 bags of both, and now I can keep half to feed my family and sell the rest to cater for other needs."
Competition from importers
Kenya imports three-quarters of its rice from Asian countries such as Pakistan under preferential tax terms; rice imports from these countries incur a 35 per cent tax, compared with 75 per cent levied on other agricultural imports.
In June 2011, the Kenyan Finance Minister extended the special tax relief on rice imports from Pakistan and Egypt to 2012.
"The cost of production of local rice is high, thus, automatically, it becomes expensive, and people would rather pick foreign rice from Asian countries which enjoy tax relief and are hence cheaper," said Auma Osolo, a lecturer at the department of agriculture at western Kenya's Maseno University. "When people don't buy your product, the incentive to produce more disappears."
According to the Ministry of Agriculture, local production of rice stands at 50,000mt per year, while annual consumption is 350,000mt. Pakistan alone exports 200,000mt of rice to Kenya annually.
The rest of this article can be found on page 24 of the digital edition of African Farming http://www.africanfarming.net/current-issue