Replacing old rice varieties

Breeders in Kenya plan to replace rice varieties that farmers have been using for the last three decades.

Dr John Kimani, a rice breeder and the Mwea Centre Director at the Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organisation says some rice varieties were developed 32 years ago, yet farmers are still using them to date.

Some of the rice varieties in earmarked for replacement are ITA 310, BW 196, IR 2793-80-1, Basmati 217 and Basmati 370.

He said the continued use of old varieties could be blamed for the drop in production over the years. The national rice production is currently at 150,000 metric tonnes against an annual consumption of 650,000 metric tonnes.

Dr Kimani said rice is an important crop in Kenya and it is one of the main focus crops under the government’s Big Four Agenda on food and nutrition security.

Other crops include maize, potatoes, sorghum, millet, cassava, sugar and cotton.

Rice is mainly produced by small-scale farmers in Mwea in Central, Bunyala in Western, Tana Delta at the Coast and Ahero, West Kano, Migori and Kuria in the Nyanza province. About 300,000 rice farmers provide labour and also earn their livelihood from producing the crop.

Dr Kimani said KALRO, in partnership with the Korean Government, are developing high yielding rice varieties through introgression of high yielding traits from Korean germplasm to the local varieties.

“We are currently developing product profiles so that we understand why farmers and consumers have been clinging to these varieties for many years. This will help to ensure that the new varieties that will replace the old ones have those traits that are preferred by farmers and consumers,” he explained.