The KPL Chairman, Mr Carter Coleman said over the weekend that by 2016, KPL aims to have 5,000 farmer families producing a surplus beyond their own needs of over 13,000 tonnes of rice annually.
He said on the sidelines of the just ended Africa Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) during a discussion on ‘contract farming and out grower schemes for African markets’ that last year, they expanded to 265 families who again tripled their traditional yields, expanding from a quarter acre to 1 acre or more In 2012, partnering with Yara international, Africa Enterprise Challenge Fund (AECF) and USAID, KPL added 1,350 new farmer families and organised crop financing for 148 farmers who each planted more than 1 acre.
KPL, which has invested over 45bn/-($30m) so far, is the Tanzanian subsidiary of AGRICA is developing the 5,818 ha Mngeta Farm in the fertile Kilombero Valley, one of the best agro-eco zones for rice farming in East Africa. He said that in 2010, KPL brought a System for Rice Intensification (SRI) expert from India who trained 15 farmer families, who in turn doubled or tripled their yields, from 2 to 4 and 6 tonnes per hectare equivalent from quarter acre plots.
However, he said there are smallholder project challenges where increased production volumes are resulting in harvesting bottleneck. He said villagers hire neighbours but labour is scarce and expensive. He said more mini-combines were needed for villagers saying they would plant more under SRI if they could be assured of mechanised harvesting.
He said that in July and August KPL bought its first SRI paddy at market price at $466 per tonne; the equivalent milled rice cost at 65 per cent mill were $847 per tonne delivered to Dar es Salaam, including district levies.
However, he said unless the price rises, KPL would not be able to make a profit margin on the smallholder paddy schemes. He added that unlike sugar, oil palm or an export crop that relies on a single processor, there are numerous buyers and many small mills in the Kilombero Valley.
Poor infrastructure remains the biggest challenge, he said. Lack of government research stations focusing on local pests and diseases and absence of good seed varieties and effective agri-chemicals registered in local market were another problem, he said. He said that after heavy rains, the road was closed for two months in 2011, cutting the farms and hundreds of smallholder farmers from the world during harvest time.