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Farmers in Western Kenya turn to rice as sugarcane farming shinks

KAKAMEGA, Kenya, (Xinhua) -- For about four decades, sugarcane farming has been a source of income for John Masila.

He faithfully tilled his sugarcane plantation for the years and the crop ensured him food on the table.

But one morning some two years ago, Masila picked up a machete and with the help of some men he had hired slashed the large plantation. 

“I was tired of waiting for the payment. The crop was no longer serving me and I had lost interest because of the delay and poor payments,” Masila sums up his disappointment on sugarcane farming.

Musila, a farmer in Busombuni village, Kakamega County recalls a time when sugarcane farming was associated with opulence and success—a time when farmers in Western region anticipated the boom that came after sugarcane companies paid for their produce. 

“I was supplying to Mumias Sugar Company and they paid me well. Most farmers depended on that money to feed their families and pay school fees,” he told Xinhua on earlier this week.

Soon, signs that things were not okay started springing up. First, there was delay in collecting sugarcane, then payments would take too long to mature, and sometimes the company would pay in installments, with a promise that it would top up when things stabilized.

But they never did. “We kept hoping everything would be fine, but it just got worse. Life was unbearable and I had to look for an alternative to ensure my children are in school,” he told Xinhua.

After he slashed the sugarcane, he started pondering what to do with his farm.” Three days after the sugarcane was down, I looked round my farm and something struck my mind-try rice,” recalls Masila on the journey to rice growing.

At first he thought the option is impossible until he took a stroll around the neighboring village when he realized the viability of what he terms as “magical” rice.

With the help of an extension officer, he tried his hand to the new crop. Masila says he got the first seeds from someone who had grown Nerica rice before and immediately sowed it on his farm.

His first harvest on the two acres was not a lot, but says he was excited at the possibility the new crop brought.

The 60 year old is among dozens of farmers who abandoned sugarcane to venture into another crop.

“Since I started to venture into rice, it is easy to harvest, it has a ready market and returns are good,” says Masila.

Marion Gathumbi, in charge of rice promotion programme at the Ministry of Agriculture, says there is hope for farmers who want to grow Nerica rice.

“In one hectare farm, a farmer can harvest two to four tonnes of the rice upon harvesting,” says Gathumbi.

She adds that nerica rice is phenomenal, because it grows just like maize, and farmers in all areas of the country can take it up and grow it.

“Nerica seeds are available at the Kenya Seed Company for farmers who are interested in it,” says Gathumbi.

Masila is among many of the farmers in western Kenya who are growing it. He says even though sugarcane farming did not work, his heart was still in farming and is willing to try anything that provides a good harvest.

“Farming can give you money, but you have to be dedicated to it and be flexible to overcome uncertainties that come with it,” he says.

He adds that when sugarcane farming did not work out, most farmers got discouraged and some abandoned farming altogether.

“Finding something new to grow gives hope,” he says while supervising the weeding on his rice plantation. Masila is yet to master the dynamics of growing the crop for maximum yield.

Even though he has it in his farm, he learns something new every day. He talks of days when he wakes up and realizes that leaves look different, and he has to consult county agricultural officers to find a solution.

“Rice is becoming quickly a reliable cash crop in the region because it matures faster and paying well than sugarcane and we are appealing to both the county and national governments to give a hand in the construction of a processing factory,” urged Wanyama.



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