The flooding of rice fields across Kenya over the past two months could worsen food insecurity in the country, the National Irrigation Board (NIB) has said.
Joel Tanui, western Kenya manager at the NIB said Kenya’s recent floods have ruined harvests in several rice production hubs – including Kisumu, Homa Bay and Busia counties – which together supply up to 40% of all rice grown in the country.
Climate scientists say sudden, intense floods are becoming more common due to extreme weather worsened by global warming.
Although rice is a thirsty crop that needs a lot of water, the force of the flooding can be so strong that it crushes rice stalks and strips the grains from the plants, he explained.
Any plants still standing drown after spending hours or even days submerged in water.
Since April, about 7,500 acres (3,035 hectares) of rice have been destroyed by floods, according to data from the NIB, which sits under the agriculture ministry and manages the farming projects that grow most of Kenya’s rice, including in Ahero.
According to a 2014 report from the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, rice is the “third most important” food staple in Kenya after maize and wheat.
Most rice is consumed by city residents, with rural Kenyans relying on it to make an income but preferring to eat maize and wheat, the report noted.
And rice is only getting more popular, with national consumption increasing at a rate of 12%, compared to 1% for maize and 4% for wheat, it said.
With more than a quarter of Kenya’s population now living in cities, according to the World Bank, this year’s floods in major rice-growing areas threaten to put pressure on food supplies.
“As many people in the country continue to move to urban areas, most of them largely depend on rice as a staple food, unlike those in rural areas who hardly eat rice,” said the NIB’s Tanui.
The U.S. Agency for International Development reported in April that about 1.3 million Kenyans – almost 3% of the population – were facing crisis levels of food insecurity, or worse.
And a mid-May report by the European Commission humanitarian aid department said heavy, prolonged rains had directly affected 1.26 million people across the Horn of Africa since March.