Rice Farming In Kenya: Rice is currently the third important staple crop after maize and wheat in Kenya. It can be considered as an alternative cereal to supplement maize as it is preferred by households in ASAL regions.

Rice farming in kenya 2023
Rice farmers

About Rice Farming In Kenya

Rice is grown by small and medium scale farmers as a cash crop in East and Southern Africa and for subsistence in Western Africa. The crop was introduced in Kenya in 1907 from Asia.
About 80% of rice grown in Kenya is from irrigated ecologies established by the Government and communities, while the rest is produced under rain-fed conditions.

Rice farming in Kenya is an important agricultural activity, with the crop being a staple food for many people in the country. Rice is primarily grown in the Mwea Irrigation Scheme, which is located in Kirinyaga County, but it is also cultivated in other parts of the country, including Ahero in Kisumu County and Bunyala in Busia County.

The Mwea Irrigation Scheme, which covers an area of about 30,000 hectares, is the largest rice farming area in Kenya. The scheme was established in the 1950s and has since grown to become a major contributor to the country’s food security. The scheme is managed by the National Irrigation Board (NIB) and is mainly operated by smallholder farmers.

In addition to the Mwea Irrigation Scheme, rice is also grown in the Ahero Irrigation Scheme, which covers an area of about 3,000 hectares, and the Bunyala Irrigation Scheme, which covers an area of about 1,800 hectares.

Rice farming in Kenya faces various challenges, including the high cost of inputs such as fertilizers, pesticides, and seeds, inadequate infrastructure for irrigation, and post-harvest losses due to poor storage facilities. However, efforts are being made by the government and other stakeholders to address these challenges and improve rice farming in the country. On average rice farm sizes range from 0.25-4.0 acres (0.1-1.6 Ha). These farmers are not well organized with low rice value addition at the farm level.

Overall, rice farming in Kenya is an important sector that contributes significantly to the country’s food security and provides a source of income for many smallholder farmers.

Common Rice Varieties Grown In Kenya

There are two main things that every farmer should consider when choosing a suitable seed variety. The first is the prevalent diseases in the area. So why is this important? Let us assume that the rice yellow mortal virus has been found in neighboring farms. If this is the case, it is in the farmer’s interest to find a yellow mortal virus-resistant seed variety.

Another critical factor to consider is the marketability of the seed variety. Processors do not like some seed varieties because they break during processing. Farmers should consider the grain quality, such as taste, shape, and aroma. Other factors to consider when selecting a suitable rice seed breed are:

  • The yield potential
  • The growth duration of the seed
  • Its resistance to abiotic stresses such as floods and droughts
  • The tiller capacity of the chosen seed breed

There are several rice farming varieties in Kenya that are commonly grown by farmers. Some of these varieties include:

  1. Pishori: This is a high-yielding variety that is grown in the Mwea region of Kenya. It is known for its aromatic grains and is preferred for making biryani.
  2. Basmati: This variety is also grown in the Mwea region and is known for its long and slender grains. It is a popular export crop and is used to make pilau and biryani.
  3. Nerica: This is a new variety that was developed by the Africa Rice Center (WARDA) to suit African growing conditions. It is a cross between the Asian and African rice varieties and is drought-resistant and high-yielding.
  4. IR 2793: This is a variety that was developed by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and is popular in the Ahero region of Kenya. It is known for its resistance to pests and diseases and is high-yielding.
  5. Komboka: This is a variety that is grown in the Coast region of Kenya. It is known for its short cooking time and is used to make a variety of dishes, including coconut rice.
  6. Sindano: This is a variety that is grown in the Mwea region and is known for its high yield and resistance to diseases.
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These are just some of the rice farming varieties that are grown in Kenya. There are many other local varieties that are also grown by farmers across the country.

Habiba Msonga examines her rice paddy. Photo credit FAO

Climatic requirements for rice farming in Kenya

Rice farming in Kenya requires a warm and humid climate with well-distributed rainfall. The following are the specific climatic requirements for rice farming in Kenya:

  1. Temperature: Rice requires a warm climate with temperatures ranging between 20°C to 35°C. Temperatures above 35°C can negatively affect rice growth and development.
  2. Rainfall: Rice requires a high and well-distributed rainfall of between 1000mm to 3000mm per year. However, excessive rainfall can also negatively affect rice growth and development.
  3. Humidity: Rice requires a high relative humidity of between 70% to 90% during the growing season. This helps to minimize moisture stress and maximize growth.
  4. Sunshine: Rice requires abundant sunshine to maximize growth and development. However, prolonged exposure to direct sunlight can lead to heat stress and reduce yield.
  5. Altitude: Rice can be grown at altitudes of up to 1,500 meters above sea level in Kenya. However, lower altitudes with warm and humid conditions are more suitable for rice farming.

In summary, rice farming in Kenya requires a warm and humid climate with well-distributed rainfall, high relative humidity, abundant sunshine, and suitable altitude.

Soil Requirements On Rice Farming

Soil type and pH are also important factors that affect rice farming in Kenya. Here are the details:

  1. Soil type: Rice grows well in soils that are rich in organic matter, well-drained, and have good water-holding capacity. Clayey or loamy soils are ideal for rice farming as they can retain water for long periods. Sandy soils are not suitable for rice farming as they cannot retain water and nutrients for long.
  2. Soil pH: The ideal soil pH for rice farming is between 5.5 and 6.5. Acidic soils with a pH below 5.5 should be limed to increase the pH. Soil pH affects nutrient availability to the rice crop, and a pH that is too high or too low can affect crop growth and yield.
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In addition to soil type and pH, other soil properties such as soil fertility, texture, and structure also play an important role in rice farming. Proper soil management practices, such as regular fertilization, irrigation, and crop rotation, can help to maintain soil fertility and improve rice crop yield.

Step by Step On Rice Planting In Kenya

Planting rice involves several steps, which are as follows:

  1. Prepare the soil: The first step is to prepare the soil by tilling it and breaking up any clumps. This helps to create a smooth and even seedbed. The soil should also be leveled to ensure even water distribution.
  2. Choose the rice variety: There are many different types of rice, so you should choose the one that is best suited to your climate and soil type.
  3. Soak the seeds: Before planting, soak the seeds in water for 24 hours to help them germinate more quickly.
  4. Prepare the seedbed: Create rows in the soil using a hoe or plow. The rows should be spaced about 20-30 cm apart.
  5. Plant the seeds: Plant the rice seeds about 2-3 cm deep and about 10 cm apart in the rows.
  6. Flood the field: After planting, flood the field with water to a depth of about 5 cm. This helps to keep the soil moist and also helps to control weeds.
  7. Maintain the field: Maintain the field by regularly checking for pests and weeds. You may need to use pesticides or herbicides to keep your rice plants healthy.
  8. Harvest the rice: Harvest the rice when the grains have turned brown and the leaves have turned yellow. This usually takes about 3-6 months, depending on the variety of rice.

Overall, planting rice requires careful preparation and maintenance, but with the right steps, you can grow a healthy and abundant crop.


Done 80-180 days after sowing depending on varieties and location. Dry the rice to 14% moisture content. Yield range from 4.5 to 10 tons per hectare for irrigated rice and 3-7 tons per hectare for rain-fed rice.

Pests and diseases affecting rice farming in Kenya

Common diseases known to attack rice include blast, rice yellow mottle virus, damping off, bacterial leaf blight, sheath blight, sheath rot and brown leaf spot.

Rice pests include stem borers, leaf miners, root cutting insects, white rice borer, birds, stalk-eyed fly, rice sucking bugs, rice root knot nematode and rice leafhopper.

The pests and diseases are controlled by use of appropriate insecticides, cultural methods, planting healthy seeds, crop rotation, observing field hygiene and through biological control.

Cost of production on rice farming in Kenya

The cost of rice production in Kenya can vary depending on various factors such as the region, size of the farm, method of cultivation, labor costs, and input costs. Here are some of the estimated costs involved in rice production in Kenya:

  1. Land preparation: This involves clearing the land, plowing, and harrowing. The cost can vary depending on the size of the land, type of machinery used, and the method of cultivation. The estimated cost is around Ksh 10,000 to Ksh 20,000 per acre.
  2. Seedlings: The cost of seedlings can range from Ksh 1,500 to Ksh 4,500 per acre depending on the type of rice variety.
  3. Fertilizers: Fertilizers are essential for rice growth and yield. The cost of fertilizers can vary depending on the type of fertilizer used, the quantity, and the supplier. An estimated cost is around Ksh 6,000 to Ksh 10,000 per acre.
  4. Labor costs: Labor costs can vary depending on the region and the method of cultivation. The cost of labor for land preparation, planting, weeding, and harvesting can range from Ksh 15,000 to Ksh 25,000 per acre.
  5. Water: Rice is a water-intensive crop, and the cost of water can be high, depending on the source of water and the method of irrigation. The estimated cost of water is around Ksh 4,000 to Ksh 8,000 per acre.
  6. Pesticides and herbicides: The cost of pesticides and herbicides can vary depending on the type of product used, the quantity, and the supplier. An estimated cost is around Ksh 4,000 to Ksh 8,000 per acre.
  7. Harvesting: The cost of harvesting can vary depending on the method used, the size of the farm, and the labor costs. The estimated cost of harvesting is around Ksh 5,000 to Ksh 10,000 per acre.
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Overall, the estimated cost of rice production in Kenya can range from Ksh 45,000 to Ksh 70,000 per acre.

Profitability Of Rice Farming In Kenya

The profitability of rice farming in Kenya can vary depending on various factors such as the size of the farm, the quality of the soil, the cost of inputs such as seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, and labor, as well as the prevailing market prices for rice.

Generally, rice farming in Kenya can be profitable, especially if the farmer uses modern farming techniques, high-yielding varieties, and efficient management practices. Additionally, government initiatives such as subsidized fertilizers and extension services can help to reduce the cost of inputs and increase productivity.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture in Kenya, the average yield per hectare for rice in the country is about 3,000 kg, and the average selling price is around KES 80 per kilogram. Based on these estimates, a farmer who produces one hectare of rice can earn about KES 240,000 from selling their harvest.

However, it is important to note that rice farming in Kenya faces various challenges such as poor infrastructure, unreliable water supply, and competition from imported rice, which can affect profitability. Therefore, farmers need to conduct thorough market research, seek expert advice, and implement efficient farming practices to ensure profitability in rice farming.

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