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Rice Farming in Kenya: A Comprehensive Guide


Rice farming in Kenya is a vital part of Kenya’s agriculture, with rice being the third most important cereal crop after maize and wheat. The crop was introduced in Kenya in 1907 and is grown in all rice production ecologies. The National Irrigation Board (NIB) manages about 95% of rice production in Kenya, which is grown under irrigation in paddy schemes.

Kenya’s rice consumption is estimated at 300,000 metric tons, with the majority of the rice being imported to meet the demand. However, with the potential for high yields and profitability, rice farming presents a significant opportunity for Kenyan farmers to increase their income and contribute to the country’s food security.

Despite the potential benefits, rice farming in Kenya faces several challenges, including limited access to irrigation, pests and diseases, and inadequate infrastructure. However, with proper training and support, farmers can overcome these challenges and realize the full potential of rice farming in Kenya.

History of Rice Farming in Kenya

Rice farming has a long history in Kenya, dating back to the early 1900s. According to research, rice was first introduced in Kenya in 1907. Since then, it has become the third most important cereal crop in the country, after maize and wheat. Rice is grown in all rice production ecologies in Kenya, including irrigated, rain-fed lowland, and upland systems.

Initially, rice farming was mainly carried out by the Asian community in Kenya. However, over the years, the government has encouraged more Kenyans to take up rice farming as a way of boosting food security and reducing the country’s reliance on imported rice. Today, rice farming is carried out in various parts of the country, including Mwea, Ahero, Bunyala, and West Kano.

Over the years, there have been various efforts to improve rice farming in Kenya. One of the most notable initiatives is the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO), which was established in the 1970s to conduct research and develop new rice varieties that are better suited to the Kenyan climate and soil conditions.

Today, KALRO has developed several high-yielding rice varieties that are resistant to pests and diseases, and can grow well in different rice production ecologies. These include the IR varieties, which are widely grown in Kenya and other African countries. In addition, the government has also established various programs to provide farmers with seeds, fertilizers, and other inputs to help them improve their rice yields and income.

Current State of Rice Farming in Kenya

Rice farming is an important agricultural activity in Kenya, with the crop being a staple food for many Kenyans. According to Mary Mutembei of the Agriculture Ministry, the domestic rice sector is yet to meet the increasing demand for rice, indicating a need for increased production.

The Kenyan government has recognized the need to boost rice production to meet the rising demand. In December 2022, the government announced plans to increase rice production after a spike in demand. The government is implementing measures such as providing farmers with seeds and fertilizers, and improving irrigation schemes to increase rice production in the country.

Rice farming in Kenya is mostly done in irrigation schemes such as Mwea, Ahero, Bura, and Bunyala. The Mwea irrigation scheme is the largest and most productive, accounting for about 80% of the country’s rice production. The scheme covers an area of about 30,000 hectares and produces about 120,000 metric tons of rice annually.

Modern farming practices such as the use of organic fertilizers and improved irrigation systems have also contributed to increased rice production in Kenya. For instance, in Kisumu County, modern farming practices have led to increased rice production, with the county boasting two large rice mills, the Lake Basin Development Authority (LBDA) and Western Kenya Rice Mills in Kibos and Ahero, respectively.

Challenges Faced by Rice Farmers in Kenya

Rice farming is a significant agricultural activity in Kenya, particularly in the Mwea Irrigation Scheme, where it is the primary crop. However, despite its importance, rice farming in Kenya faces several challenges that affect its productivity and profitability. In this section, we will explore some of the major challenges faced by rice farmers in Kenya.

High Cost of Production

One of the major challenges faced by rice farmers in Kenya is the high cost of production. Rice farming requires significant investment in inputs such as seeds, fertilizers, and pesticides, as well as labor costs. The high cost of inputs makes it difficult for small-scale farmers to compete with large-scale farmers, who can afford to invest in modern technology and equipment.

Low Yields

Low yields are another challenge faced by rice farmers in Kenya. Despite the significant investment in inputs, rice yields in Kenya are lower than in other rice-producing countries. This is partly due to the use of traditional farming methods, such as hand planting and harvesting, which are labor-intensive and less efficient than modern methods.

Poor Quality Seeds

Poor quality seeds are also a challenge faced by rice farmers in Kenya. Farmers often use recycled seeds, which are of low quality and have a low germination rate. This results in low yields and poor quality rice, which fetches low prices in the market.

Limited Access to Markets

Access to markets is a significant challenge faced by rice farmers in Kenya. Many small-scale farmers lack access to markets, which limits their ability to sell their produce and earn a decent income. The lack of access to markets also limits their ability to invest in modern technology and equipment, which could improve their productivity and profitability.

These are some of the major challenges faced by rice farmers in Kenya. Addressing these challenges is crucial to improving the productivity and profitability of rice farming in the country.

rice plant
rice plant

Government Interventions in Rice Farming in Kenya

The Kenyan government has implemented various interventions to boost rice farming in the country. Some of these interventions include:

  • Creation of the National Rice Development Strategy: In 2019, the government launched the National Rice Development Strategy-2 (NRDS-2) which is aimed at increasing rice production in the country. The strategy provides a roadmap for the development of the rice sector in Kenya from 2019 to 2030. The strategy focuses on increasing rice production, improving the quality of rice produced, and enhancing the competitiveness of the rice sector.
  • Establishment of the Rice Sector Development Hub: The Kenyan government, in partnership with the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), has established the Rice Sector Development Hub. The hub is aimed at promoting the adoption of best practices in rice farming, developing new rice varieties that are resistant to pests and diseases, and providing training and capacity building for rice farmers.
  • Provision of subsidies and incentives: The government has provided subsidies and incentives to rice farmers to encourage them to increase production. Some of these incentives include subsidized farm inputs such as seeds, fertilizers, and pesticides. The government has also provided credit facilities to rice farmers to enable them to access financing for their farming activities.
  • Investment in irrigation infrastructure: The government has invested in irrigation infrastructure to increase the amount of land available for rice farming. The government has constructed dams and irrigation canals to provide water for rice farming. This has enabled rice farmers to grow rice throughout the year, increasing production and improving food security in the country.

These interventions have had a positive impact on rice farming in Kenya. The country has experienced an increase in rice production, with production levels reaching 100,000 metric tonnes in 2020. However, there is still room for improvement, and the government is committed to continuing to support rice farming in the country.

Successful Rice Farming Practices in Kenya

Rice farming in Kenya can be a profitable venture if done correctly. Here are some successful rice farming practices in Kenya:

  • Selection of farmland: Choose a piece of land that has a steady supply of water, either from a river or a borehole. The land should also have fertile soil that is rich in nutrients.
  • Farmland preparation: Clear the land of bushes and trees, and plow the land to a depth of at least 15cm. Level the land and make sure that there are no depressions or high spots that will affect the flow of water.
  • Purchase of rice specie: Choose a rice variety that is suitable for the area where you plan to farm. Some of the popular rice varieties in Kenya include Basmati, Jasmine, and Arborio.
  • Seed planting: Plant the rice seeds in rows, with a spacing of at least 20cm between each row. Make sure that the seeds are planted at a depth of about 2cm below the soil surface.
  • Weeding: Weed the rice field regularly to remove any unwanted plants that may compete with the rice for nutrients and water. Use a hoe or a hand-held weeder to remove the weeds.
  • Pest control: Use natural pest control methods such as crop rotation, intercropping, and biological control to control pests and diseases. Avoid using chemical pesticides as they can harm the environment and the rice plants.
  • Harvesting: Harvest the rice when the grains are fully mature, and the moisture content is between 18% and 22%. Use a sickle or a scythe to cut the rice plants, and thresh the rice to separate the grains from the straw.

By following these successful rice farming practices in Kenya, you can increase your chances of having a successful rice farming venture.


In conclusion, rice farming in Kenya is facing both challenges and opportunities. While the government has made efforts to expand rice growing areas, production has been declining in recent years. However, there is still potential for small-scale farmers to profit from growing japonica rice.

Rice Blast disease remains a significant threat to farmers in the Mwea region, and more research is needed to develop effective solutions to this problem. Additionally, rainfed rice farming faces constraints, including the use of traditional varieties and landraces.

Overall, the future of rice farming in Kenya will depend on the ability of farmers to adapt to changing conditions and adopt new technologies and practices. With the right support and investment, rice farming could play an important role in improving food security and increasing incomes for farmers in Kenya.

Sources: Atera, Evans A., Florence N. Onyancha, and Eucabeth BO Majiwa. “Production and marketing of rice in Kenya: Challenges and opportunities.” Journal of Development and Agricultural Economics 10.3 (2018): 64-70. Link: https://academicjournals.org/journal/JDAE/article-full-text/1820CDE55981

Omondi, Samuel Onyango, and Kelvin Mashisia Shikuku. “An analysis of technical efficiency of rice farmers in Ahero Irrigation Scheme, Kenya.” Journal of Economics and Sustainable Development 4.10 (2013): 9-16. Link: https://www.academia.edu/download/48358734/6503-8518-1-PB.pdf

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John Kamau is a highly experienced agriculture expert based in Kenya. He holds a degree in Agriculture from the University of Nairobi and has over 15 years of experience in the field. Throughout his career, John has been committed to promoting sustainable agriculture practices in Kenya. He has worked with small-scale farmers in rural communities to improve their crop yields, implement irrigation systems, and adopt environmentally friendly farming practices. John is also an expert in the use of technology in agriculture. He has worked with organizations to develop mobile applications that help farmers access information about weather patterns, market prices, and best practices for crop management. In addition to his work in Kenya, John has also been involved in agricultural projects in other African countries, including Tanzania and Uganda. He has served as a consultant for the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and has been recognized for his work with numerous awards.


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