Rice is the new money maker in Jarajara, Garissa County
Published December 15, 2015 by Leopold Obi
17 year old Yunis Ali, willows his rice before processing it and taking it to the market
Sitting next to a wooden structure nestled among bushy palm trees of Jarajara, Garissa County, Hassan Yunis dips his hand in a basket full of rice, scoops some out and carefully examines it to check if it has husks. Yunis engages in the exercise as he whiles away time. The septuagenarian is among farmers growing irrigated rice in the district.
The old man reminisces about how two decades ago goats, camels and cattle wondered freely across the rolling plains of Jarajara. Pasture was not scarce and they could browse freely. However, frequent droughts have rendered goat and camel rearing unprofitable, prompting many to search other ways to earn a living.
“Pastoralism alone is no longer profitable, pushing many to farming, including rice,” says Yunis. He explains that the 2011 drought, during which he lost his 20 camels, was a turning point for him.
Most of the land in Jarajara, about 150km from Garissa town, is virgin and, therefore, supports crop farming well. Even though the area is dry and arid, the River Tana has made rice growing under the paddy method possible.
Over 50 farmers are now cultivating the pishori and basmati varieties of rice for consumption and sale, with a 50kg bag going for Kes 5,500 (or approximately USD 50).
“We experienced some challenges when we started, but farmers are now reaping the benefits. For instance, some farmers did not want to uproot grass from the rice fields claiming that it was fodder for their cattle but we have overcome all that,” says Abdikadir Soye, a government agricultural extension officer working with the farmers.
Paddy rice cultivation is done under varied climatic conditions and soil types ranging from loamy to black cotton soil, but a lot of water is needed for irrigation. Before the project started sometime in 2011, the USAID-funded REGAL-IR project and the Kenyan Ministry of Agriculture sent 25 farmers from Jarajara to the Mwea Rice Irrigation Scheme. The farmers returned with new skills and knowledge.
“We currently have more than 65 acres under rice cultivation. Every farmer owns at least an acre in the scheme,” notes Yunis, who is also the chairman of Jarajara Rice Farmers association.
Habiba Mohammed, a mother of six, says she gets not less than ten 50kg bags of the cereal per acre of land.
“I also make hay from the rice stalks, which I sell at Kes 300 a bale (approximately USD 3),” she says, adding that selling the rice is not a challenge there is huge demand for it in the region. She spends Kes 3,000 (approximately USD 30) per month to hire workers who prepare the field by hand, as tractors are not readily available, and plant.
Water flows from the river to the farms through a 19km canal that the community constructed.
“We ventured into rice farming because of the huge market. About 80 per cent of our community depends on rice as a staple,” says Adan Keynan, Jarajara chief and also a rice farmer. Rice is the third most important cereal in the country after maize and wheat.
There are four National Irrigation Board (NIB) run rice schemes across the country. These include Mwea, which accounted for 78 per cent of the irrigated area in the country and 88 per cent of production between 2005 and 2010, according to NIB data. The other three are Ahero, Bunyala and West Kano in western Kenya.
The dreams of Jarajara rice farmers to add value to their produce received a major boost recently after the Garissa County government and REGAL-IR installed a mill that processes about 1,000kg of the produce per hour. This is expected to increase the quantity of rice available for sale.
“Plans are underway to improve packaging of rice produced. We also hope to sell to establish retailers in and outside Garissa,” explained Saphia Omar, the county executive in-charge of agriculture, livestock and irrigation.
“Rice farming is transforming our livelihoods. I earn about Kes 60,000 (approximately USD 600) from an acre per harvest,” says Habiba, explaining that she uses the money to educate her children.