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 rice..
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 period.
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
An ample 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.