An acute rice shortage looms in the country due to lack of water in the giant Mwea irrigation scheme within Kirinyaga County. Farmers have prepared their farms but they can’t plant rice as water levels in major rivers have gone down. Usually, rice is grown through irrigation and without sufficient water in the scheme; its 7,000 farmers are a worried lot. The scheme, which is the largest in East and Central Africa, produces 80 per cent of rice consumed in Kenya. But due to the prolonged dry spell, shortage of rice is likely. The drought has affected major rivers such as Nyamindi, Thiba, Rutui, Kiringa and Mukengeria, which supply water to the scheme for irrigation. It is so bad that some of these rivers have dried up. The farmers said such a water shortage has never been experienced since the scheme was established in the 1950s. “This is the worst season in the history of rice farming in the area,” said Mr Simon Njogu. “We have never seen rivers drying up. This is the first time farmers are facing such a problem.” The farmers said they were dependent on rice farming to feed their families and educate their children. “If it does not rain soon the rivers will remain dry and it means that we shall not grow rice.”Therefore, we shall be appealing to the two governments to provide relief food for survival,” said another farmer, Mr John Kamau.
Mr. Maurice Mutugi, Chairman of Mwea Water Users Association, admitted that the situation is serious. “Water in rivers started reducing last season and farmers harvested very little rice. But this season is the worst because farmers can’t plant without water,” he said. The scheme’s water problem, according to farmers, can only be resolved once the Thiba dam is constructed. The construction of the dam at an estimated cost of Sh20 billion, which is meant to increase water in the scheme, has not yet started. The money for the dam was allocated during former President Kibaki’s regime. On Tuesday, President Uhuru Kenyatta blamed the delay in construction on wrangling among the leaders and promised to intervene. Meanwhile, the government has supplied relief food to areas affected by drought in Ndaragwa constituency, Nyandarua County. Speaking at Ndaragwa stadium on Friday evening, Public Service Cabinet Secretary, Ms. Sicily K. Kariuki, said a consignment of 800 bags of maize, 500 bags of rice, 300 bags of beans and over 50 cartons of cooking oil have been delivered to the area deputy county commissioner’s office. The government will ensure that relief food reaches all affected families in the semi-arid areas. She further warned those in charge of distribution of the food against selling it. “I want to assure Kenyans across the country that everyone who is affected will get relief food,” she said. Ms Kariuki, assured that another mega dam would be constructed at Pesi at a cost of Sh15 billion.