Mary Mutembei, head of rice promotion program in the ministry of agriculture said that farmers will be encouraged to plant the improved varieties in order to reduce an annual import bill that currently stands at 25 billion shillings (about 232 million U.S. dollars).
"We have partnered with the private sector to increase rice production in the country through cultivation of the hybrid variety. Our goal is to reduce the high rice import bill," Mutembei said during a field mission in the coastal county of Tana River.
She said rice consumption in Kenya is expected to reach 1.29 million tons by 2030, amid growing demand in burgeoning cities and rural towns.
Mutembei said that introduction of hybrid rice, which matures faster and is tolerant to diseases, pest and climatic stresses, will help meet local demand and broaden revenue streams for farmers.
According to Mutembei, 90 percent of rice consumed in Kenya annually is imported despite the country having favorable climate, healthy soils and adequate water to grow the crop.
She said the government and industry players had embarked on sensitization campaigns to educate farmers and millers on nutritional benefits of hybrid rice ahead of the planting season.
Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS) has already approved hybrid rice seed whose development was supported by African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF).
Sanni Kayode, rice project manager at AATF, said the improved varieties will boost food security in Kenya and encourage the youth to venture into rice farming as an income-generating activity.
He said that hybrid seeds would raise rice yield from 20 to 50 bags per acre and are ideal for small-holder farmers grappling with climatic shocks, declining soil fertility and post-harvest losses.
Kayode said that AATF partnered with breeders affiliated with Nairobi-based Hybrid East Africa to harness research and technology that paved the way for the development of hybrid rice seeds that are suitable for tropical weather across Africa. ■