Mwea: the country’s pearl of Pishori rice

Friday February 21 2014

A farmer carries rice seedlings in a paddy field at the Mwea Irrigation Scheme in Kirinyaga District, about 100 km southeast of Nairobi. Currently grappling with an acute shortage of water, the scheme also features in the National Irrigation’s Board revival plan.

A farmer carries rice seedlings in a paddy field at the Mwea Irrigation Scheme. Mwea is wonderful and with all the potential lying around, we can overcome the ills afflicting us. PHOTO/reuters 

Welcome to Mwea Town referred to locally as Ngurubani. Located about 98 kilometres north of the capital on the Embu-Nairobi highway, Ngurubani is growing rapidly.

In fact, investors are falling over themselves to pitch tent here.

Mwea has earned a reputation over the years for producing quality rice though the million dollar question is; do rice producing areas like Mwea, Ahero, Bura and Bunyala really help fight hunger?

Folks in Mwea have always wondered why there is famine in the country year in year out yet the area has potential to produce more rice. The Cabinet Secretary for Agriculture has some homework to do.

Mwea produces 80 per cent of Kenya’s annual rice, estimated to be about 110,000 tonnes.

However, the country’s consumption is 400,000 tonnes meaning we still have to import to sustain our food basket. Mwea is capable of bridging this gap and producing surplus.

There is a police unit and a prison at Gathigiriri.

Mwea is a growing commercial hub attracting banks and other financial institutions. Its location on the highway is also an advantage.

Almost all businesses have been infiltrated by middlemen. They are the bridge that links the shadowy ‘big boys’ and the person at the grassroots. It is an exploitative kind of business modus operandi as the ‘big boys’ and middlemen laugh all the way to the bank.

Some have opened supermarkets, hotels, entertainment joints, rice milling firms and all kinds of ventures.

There is the good and bad side to this. As much as these business empires have provided employment, they have also generated insecurity since thieves target them.

Residents here have given education a wide berth. The huge number of those dropping out of school, especially primary, tells the sad tale.

Sadly, in some villages such as Ndorome and Nguka on the outskirts of Ngurubani, it has become fashionable to abandon classes and get into rice farming.

It never ends well for these dropouts. They find out later that prices of basic commodities are astronomical and it becomes difficult to have a meal in a day. Most turn to drugs and cheap alcohol.

Despair pushes these youths to the limit and a majority end up as the dregs of society and a burden to their relatives. Talents and dreams go down the drain.

The good thing is that there is light at the end of the tunnel. In spite of many dropping out of school, many others have also gone to universities, colleges and other tertiary institutions.

That is where our hopes lie.

Apart from rice and drugs, Ngurubani is also known for the Mwea Classic Marathon. The event has not only put the town on the global map but it has also provided jobs and created a big platform for talent utilisation.

World-conquering athletes have romped our streets and sponsors have come calling. Mwea Boys’ Secondary School, the host of the event, has benefited greatly.
Great athletes are born out of this one-day event.

The dusty conditions and harsh terrain are not ideal for such a spot but it does not harm if it is just held for a few hours. Unfortunately, seeing a local taking part in the marathon is like looking for a needle in a stack of needles!

Leaders and organisers now are encouraging Mwea residents to participate in the next marathon.

It is hoped that next time, locals will stop being spectators and don the jerseys to join the runners.

Mwea is wonderful and with all the potential lying around, we can overcome the ills afflicting us.

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