KENYA – Rice farmers in Meru, Embu, and Tharaka Nithi counties are poised to experience a green revolution with the rapid adoption of high-yielding upland rice varieties, thanks to a collaborative effort by Kilimo Trust, the Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO), and Egerton University.

Designed to thrive under rain-fed conditions, these innovative rice varieties are aimed at reshaping the agricultural landscape in major rice-producing areas in Kenya.

This initiative is part of Kilimo Trust’s Reduce, Reuse, Recycle Rice Initiative for Climate Smart Agriculture (R4iCSA), supported by the IKEA Foundation.

The R4iCSA project aims to engage 10,000 smallholder rice farmers in Kenya and Uganda, promoting sustainable practices to combat climate change.

Additionally, it aligns with the Kenya National Rice Development Strategy (KNRDS 2019–2030) and the East African Community’s (EAC) Rice Development Strategy, both of which strive to boost rice production and reduce reliance on imports.

Over the past two years, more than 3,800 small-scale farmers have been trained in upland rice cultivation. Of these, 800 farmers have successfully integrated these drought-tolerant crops into their farming practices, potentially addressing Kenya’s pressing food security challenges.

Emphasizing the significance of this initiative, Dr. Birungi Korutaro, Kilimo Trust’s Chief Executive Officer, said that upland rice farming is a crucial step toward achieving rice sufficiency in Kenya and across Africa.

By reducing our dependence on imported rice, we can lower food import costs and bolster local economies. Our commitment to promoting upland rice farming aligns with our vision for a food-secure East Africa that is both economically and environmentally sustainable,” Korutaro added.

This comes at a time when Kenya’s rice consumption is soaring, driven by urbanization and shifting consumer preferences.

According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS), annual rice consumption exceeds one million metric tonnes, while domestic production lags at approximately 230,000 metric tonnes.

In 2023, Kenya spent KES 54.7 billion (US$425M) to import 937,098.5 metric tonnes of rice to bridge this gap.

Prof. Paul Kimurto of Egerton University highlighted the environmental benefits, noting, “Upland rice reduces greenhouse gas emissions and improves soil health, facilitating the incorporation of legumes as rotational crops.”

He explained that, grown on well-drained soils rather than flooded paddies, upland rice takes between three and four months to mature and has a slightly lower production cost compared to lowland rice.

This sustainable farming method also allows for inter-cropping, making it ideal for small-scale farmers.

On his part, Simon Mbai, a farmer from Nkui, Meru County, shared the transformative impact on his livelihood.

These new varieties have been a game-changer for us. Since switching from maize to rice farming, my income has nearly doubled. More farmers are eager to learn about these varieties as an alternative staple to maize.”

For all the latest grains industry news from Africa, the Middle East, and the World, subscribe to our weekly NEWSLETTERS, follow us on LinkedIn, and subscribe to our YouTube channel.