A visit by a Kenyan rice farmer to a Bangladeshi village has changed the lives of fellow rice farmers in Mwea constituency of Central Kenya who have now adopted a low-cost technology for sowing rice seeds that has cut costs by up to 60 per cent and reduced seed wastage by 90 per cent.
Albert Njihia, a rice farmer from Mwea, was on a farmer exchange programme in Bangladesh when he was struck by an easy-to-make technology dubbed a drum seeder that farmers in rice paddies were using to plant rice. With help from Bridge Net Africa a not for profit organisation that has been helping farmers in Mwea, he set out to reconstruct the drum seeder and two years on some 300 farmers are now sharing 10 of the seeders that have been constructed.
For generations, farmers have been planting rice by tossing handfuls of seed into a field until it is covered. Unfortunately, this causes unequal seed distribution, which reduces yields and limits farmer income.
The drum seeder is a simple piece of equipment that has transformed the way farmers sow their fields. The design is straightforward and easy to use. A series of plastic drums containing seed is linked horizontally with wheels on both ends. The farmer stands in a harness and pulls the unit behind him, dispensing seed up to 16 rows at a time. This allows farmers to plant crops in evenly-spaced rows, ensuring they get the most out of their fertiliser and avoiding wasted seed, and leading to significant improvements in crop yield and quality.
Economists doing a survey on the efficacy of the seeder over traditional rice planting methods say it has reduced labour costs by about Sh5000 per hectare and increased crop yields by 5-10 per cent. “This is mainly due to the fact that the seeder requires a maximum of two farmers to operate compared to over 10 labourers who were hired to broadcast the seeds before. Again there is little or no seed wastage since all the seeds are evenly distributed in the rows,” said Michael Odong, an agricultural economist with Sandim Investments which was carrying the survey.
The survey found that the method cut wasted seeds by 90 per cent and cut costs by up to 60 per cent.
Rachel Waceke is one of the farmers now using the seeder. Since there are only 10 seeders among 300 farmers, they are divided into farmer groups of 30 members. Each member gets the seeder for two days and pays some Sh100 for the maintenance of the seeder. “I only spend a hundred shilling and within two days I have already planted my 3 acres of land. It is very accurate in broadcasting seeds. I was choking trying to pay all my labourers who would even take a whole week planting. Again, because of careless broadcasting of the seeds, on harvesting I would find rice hadn’t grown in some patches, but since I started using the seeder, rice in my fields has grown uniformly,” she said.
It is these success stories that are now motivating Albert to introduce the seeder to other rice growing areas. He is also looking for ways of adopting it for planting other crops. “I hope we can manage to remodel it to be used in planting the staple crops in Kenya, like maize, beans and potatoes. It would be every farmer’s dream,” he said.
Written by Bob Koigi for African Laughter
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