After a lull in activities around SRI (Systems of Rice Intensification), two new SRI projects were launched recently in Mwea with support of NIB and AICAD respectively. Both are implemented as a collaboration between WARREC-JKUAT and MIAD-NIB. The AICAD (African Institute for Capacity and Development) supported project involves applied research, comprising within it two-sub-projects; (i) Scientific evaluation of labour demands under SRI, and (ii) Scientific assessment of impacts of SRI on weeds. Both sub-projects also include economic assessments/implications on SRI.
The SRI Marketing Project is funded by NIB (National Irrigation Board), having commenced in April 2014. However, it was delayed to coincide with the main rice growing season (July-January). Also, we were struggling to develop a “fool proof” vetting mechanism so that only genuine SRI rice gets branded and ends up in supermarket shelves. As you can expect, there is a very thin line between milled SRI rice and conventional good rice, albeit SRI has superior properties which can be scientifically quantified. But a consumer may not be able to tell the difference easily. Now, we want to protect the SRI brand from adulteration. To do this, we have partly borrowed from the vetting mechanism adopted by the Organic agriculture value chain.
We started by developing scientific standards of what constitutes SRI rice properties (done in the laboratories at MIAD). We also conducted farmer awareness through the project launch, at which we explained to farmers about the SRI marketing project and their expected roles. Of course they had many questions. Then we conducted the SRI Census in which both adopters and non-adopters of SRI completed a simple questionnaire (4,000 respondents). All the sampled farmers listed their mobile phones, as well as areas under SRI and/or conventional paddy during the 2014/2015 rice season. Concurrently, we conducted a separate Scoping Study to determine the most popular SRI packages adopted by SRI farmers in Mwea (250 respondents). From these databases we selected 1,000 SRI farmers for the pilot phase of the SRI marketing project.
We then posted an SMS to all the 1,000 farmers – in realtime (Kenya has very advanced ICT, we actually used an innovative technology developed our former student – he has earned many international awards for it). The message requested the SRI farmers to reserve at least 10 bags of SRI paddy, to be sold in January 2015. It is now (Dec 2014) harvesting season and we feared the farmers may sell all their rice.
We will do the milling of dedicated SRI brands by two selected millers based in Mwea (who can provide high quality milling, and are farmer-supportive). The two millers have dedicated market links to niche supermarkets, and also, their brands are well protected and sold only through authorized agents. On our part we will provide technical backstopping to the vetting of which farmers should deliver SRI paddy to millers for branding. We will also facilitate some promotional marketing for consumer awareness, followed by a tracer study. In short, we plan to have SRI branded rice in selected supermarkets in Kenya by February 2015. This later date is because good millers do not mill rice immediately after harvesting (it is harvesting season right now). They let the paddy cure and fully dry to get best quality results and this takes time. Thus, it is just a matter of time before we realize “from farm to fork/spoon for rice”, as the SRI value chain becomes operational. Then you can enjoy a plate of SRI rice, with all its goodness.
Special thanks to the National Irrigation Board (NIB), for continued support to SRI and for funding this initiative.
By Project Team: WARREC/JKUAT and MIAD/NIB
Project led by: Prof. Bancy M. Mati (JKUAT) and Dr. Raphael K. Wanjogu (NIB)