This is an explanation of the activities involved in growing rice in Mwea irrigation scheme.
Mwea irrigation scheme is in
Kirinyaga county, Central province and is the biggest rice producing scheme in
Kenya. Rice is a highly-valued staple food in Kenya. Rice yields well in
black-cotton soil and needs ample supply of water for better growth. Water in
the Mwea irrigation scheme is mainly from two rivers namely; River Nyamindi and
River Thiba. In Mwea, there are various types of rice grown including pishori, sindano e.t.c.
Each type has its own characteristics separating it from the others and the
differences are very evident, even visually. Flooded rice cultivation is profitable
but requires high initial investment which is usually not affordable to smallholder farmers. Flooded rice usually yields more than upland
A farmer selects the viable and
best seeds to plant that season. The seeds are either acquired
from the farmer's stock (belonging to the last season harvest) or a farmer can purchase
the seeds from the irrigation board. The seeds from the irrigation board are
well examined to determine their viability and yields.
Rice is first reared in a
nursery and then its transferred to the entire fields after 3-4 weeks of growth. A
nursery is prepared and the soil examined to confirm viable conditions for
seeds germination (if not products such as fertilizers or manure are used to
boost soil fertility).
|Land leveling using an oxen-driven leveling bar|
The nursery should be a well prepared, flat surface to
ensure equal distribution of water into it. When the nursery is in good
condition/ready the seeds can be planted.
Once the nursery is in good
condition, the seeds are well spread over the surface using the broadcasting method at an equal amount most
appropriate for germination. Alternatively, the seeds are first put into a sisal
sack (most preferred) and the sack soaked in water for 24 hours and covered
with grass (To enhance pre-germination) for about two days (24-48hrs). After
the two days the seeds have germinated and are ready to be introduced in the
nursery with a thin film of water. Once in the nursery, the seedlings are
provided with appropriate growth conditions such as water, spraying (free the
seedlings from worms) and addition of manure or fertilizers. It takes
approximately one month for the seedlings to have grown to the expected height
needed for transplanting to the entire rice fields. When the seedlings are in
the nursery, the other part of the field is prepared by leveling it, keeping it
free from weeds and maintaining good water levels awaiting the plantation
Transplanting is done in consideration of the plant height
and the available amount of seedlings. This is done by uprooting the seedlings
from the nursery and planting in the other part of land available in the fields.
In the main fields the seedling are planted randomly with no specific order or
it can be done in lines for the entire field. Rice seedlings should not be
planted very close to each other or very spread from each other.
|workers planting the seedlings into the main rice fields|
spacing is determined by the farmers according to the directives from the
research stations. Once the transplanting exercise is complete, required water
levels are put into the fields to ensure proper growth of the plants and avoid
drying. Regular spraying is done into the fields to prevent the plants from
pests, worms and diseases such as the leaf diseases.
Land maintenance includes
controlling the conditions in the fields and preventing the plants from arising
conditions during that season. These tasks include weeding, spraying to keep
away worms and leaf diseases, ensuring good water levels in the paddocks. After
three or four weeks of planting, a farmer can start the task of weeding. Weeding
helps in eliminating competition for nutrients between the rice plants and the
weeds. The weeding is done by uprooting the weeds and burying them back into
the soil to rot (rotting weeds are still a source of nutrients for the
plants).Alternatively, modern agriculture practices are now employed whereby a
mixture of weed control products are sprayed into the fields and eliminate
weeds by “killing
” the weed plants. These control products are selective as
they don’t affect the rice plants in the fields. Weeding exercise is carried
out regularly as weeds grow to ensure a clean plantation and strong plants to
increase yield. After weeding, it’s the ample period to boost the fertility of
the soil by adding either manure or fertilizers to ensure good harvesting at
the end of the season. Fertilizer amounts to be applied in the fields depend on
various factors prevailing at the time of application. These factors include
the soil status at that time and the health of the rice plants. Nitrogen is a
key component needed in the growth of the plants hence fertilizers with higher
Nitrogen components are used.
|application of fertilizers/manure|
During this period, water levels are controlled
as wrong choice of water levels may affect the growth of the rice over time. After
one and a half (1.5) months the rice plants have grown enough and start
yielding. This is the most crucial period in the rice growing cycle. Good care
is taken during this period as it’s the time which determines the yield a
farmer will reap from the fields. Controlled water levels and required spraying are
the major concerns here. The rice plants continue yielding and in about three
weeks after noticing the first yielding in the plants in the field, the entire
rice plantation is now yielded. This means that the grains have fully developed
and are about to get ready. During this period, the major problems to the
farmers are the birds and rats which feed on the rice grains. They have a very
high chance of destroying the entire rice field if not controlled. The birds
feed on the grains mostly in the wee hours of the day and late in the evening.
|taking care of the rice(chasing away birds)|
It is the task of the farmer to take responsibility of his/her fields by
employing tactics to scare away the birds. In Large-scale farms, poisoning of
the birds is done. In small-scale farms,
various ways of scaring away the birds in the
fields include; setting up scarecrows, setting up tapes that produce sounds
that scare away birds or by personally being in the fields to scare away the
birds away. Baits are set up to control rats attack in the fields. This
exercise goes on for about one month. At this time, the grains have fully
developed and ready for harvesting.
The color of the grains at this stage has
also changed from green to brown color.
After about 3-4 months of rice
growth, its fully grown and ready for harvesting. During this period no water
is put into the paddocks as harvesting is done when the fields are completely
dry. When the fields are almost or completely dry, the rice is ready for
harvesting which marks the end of the season. In Mwea, harvesting is widely
done by cutting down the plant using a sickle and the hitting the plants on a
target on a well spread platform (“chandarua”) in order to collect the grains
in one place and to avoid grain losses.
|hitting the rice plants on the target|
The target is aimed at assisting to separate
the grains from the plants. Mostly, a stone is used as the target. At this
stage the grains are termed as PADDY. At the end of the day, the grains are
fully separated from the plants. The grains are then packaged into
sacks.Normally,a good season yields 25-30 bags of paddy rice. The bags are then
transported for storage into the farmers’ store. This marks one complete season
of rice growing.
Rice is stored in stores with less moisture to ensure the
grains stay dry.The store is also highly protected from rats which can destroy
the entire stock if not controlled.This is done by setting up baits in the
stores to keep the rats away.Once in the stores,the choice on what to do with
the paddy remains with the farmer who may decide either to store the paddy for
some time, sell the paddy as it is or take the paddy to the rice milling
centers, mill and maybe sell the rice.
After harvesting, the paddy is not ready for human
consumption. This is due to the coating covering the rice grain itself. For
human consumption, milling is done on the grains to separate the coating and
the rice itself.