admin | June 24, 2022
Saidi Nyara is a rice farmer near Tana River in Ozi village in Tana River County, Kenya. According to farmers, the high tides start pushing water up Tana River in mid-October every year, and farmers dig canals to allow the water to flow into the farms. But while Ozi’s natural irrigation means that farmers don’t need machines to irrigate their rice paddies, the salty seawater is a challenge. Seawater intrusion has been intensifying with time. According to environmental experts, it is linked to climate change. Because the Tana delta region is below sea level, it is easy for seawater to flow into farms, a situation that results in losses as the high concentration of salt dehydrates the crops. Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization researcher John Kimani says the institution has produced a number of high-yielding rice varieties that are tolerant to both diseases and salinity. The new varieties have enabled farmers to increase their production despite the low water volumes in the Tana River.
In the golden midday sun, Ozi village nestles in the tail end of the Tana Delta in Tana River County, looking like a lost paradise. The village borders the Indian Ocean on one side and the Tana River, the country’s longest, on the other. During seasons when there are floods and high tides, Ozi becomes an island. And when the water recedes, it joins the mainland at Kalota Brook where salty seawater mixes with fresh water.
These ocean tides make Ozi an unrivaled coastal breadbasket, resulting from the “natural irrigation” where tides push seawater into rice paddies.
Saidi Nyara is a rice farmer in the area. He says, “Unlike in other rice-growing regions where water is sometimes a challenge, in Ozi, we rely on the tides that push water upstream into the canals and finally into farms.”
According to farmers, the high tides start pushing water up the Tana River in mid-October every year, and farmers dig canals to allow the water to flow onto their farms. This is also the season when most farmers harvest their produce to pave the way for a new planting season.
Tana Delta Sub-County officer Zilambe Kombo says that there are two rice farming seasons when a farmer can harvest up to 29 bags of rice per acre. The farmers sell their rice locally.
But while Ozi’s natural irrigation means that farmers do not need to use machines to irrigate their rice paddies, the salty seawater poses a different challenge. Seawater intrusion in the region has been intensifying with time. According to environmental experts, it is linked to climate change.
Nature Kenya director Paul Matiku says that, while Tana River is the country’s longest river, a lot of water is extracted for irrigation s and this strongly reduces downstream flow, especially during the dry season.
Mr. Matiku says: “In such instances, there is little flow of water downstream to push back the ocean water. In turn, the ocean water pushes much further back inland, causing havoc for farmers.”
Mr. Matiku adds that, because the Tana Delta is below sea level, it is easy for seawater to flow into farms, and its high salt concentration dehydrates crops, causing losses.
As salt water intrusion increases, organizations such as the National Drought Management Authority, Nature Kenya, CISP, GROOTS, Procasur, and the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization, or KALRO, have developed rice seeds that do well in extra salty conditions.
KALRO researcher John Kimani says his institution has produced a number of high-yielding rice varieties that are tolerant to both diseases and salinity. Several varieties, including those locally known as Komboka, Saro, Daurado Precoce, Nerica, CSR 36, and 08FAN10 have been developed through partnerships with organizations such as the Korea-Africa Food and Agriculture Cooperation Initiative, the Japan International Cooperation Agency, and the Ministry for Agriculture and Counties.
Mr. Tombo says the new varieties have helped farmers increase their production despite the low water volumes within Tana River.
Mr. Nyara says he and other farmers gained access to these rice seeds through Mpozi Farmers Association, an umbrella organization that brings together farmers in the area.
He explains: “Once we harvest, we take back part of the seeds to the association for storage so that when planting season comes, we can easily access the seeds alongside those given by the conservation organizations we are working with.”
Last year, KALRO partnered with Korea-Africa Food and Agriculture Cooperation Initiative to promote rice production in the coastal region by contracting farmers to plant researched, certified rice and to supply seeds to the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service for certification.
According to Mr. Kimani, this effort s resulted in the production of certified seeds in the coastal region for the first time.
He explains, “Because of high yield per unit, farmers can get more money … from these varieties, especially in the face of climate change and the pandemic.”
This story is based on an article written by Caroline Chebet for Standard Media Group Kenya and broadcast by Lina Mawamachi of Sifa Radio called “Rice farmers in Kenya utilize ocean tides to boost production”. It was produced with support from InfoNile in January 2022. The full story is available in English and Swahili at: https://www.infonile.org/en/2022/01/rice-farmers-in-kenya-utilize-ocean-tides-to-boost-production/
Photo: One of the canals dug for water to flow to the farms when tides come. Credit: Lina Mwamachi.