A multi-million-shilling racket, in which cheap rice imports are blended with the highly-valued Mwea pishori, has been going on in the country, taking millions of consumers for a ride all the way to the dining table.
While Kenya’s paddy-grown rice in the Mwea plains is prized for its aroma and quality, business buccaneers adulterate it and sell to unsuspecting consumers. The poor quality rice is usually sprayed with ‘perfume, a chemical property that brings out the aroma’, but the scent fades after washing, compared to the original rice that maintains its pleasant smell after cooking.
On Saturday, a multi-agency team comprising the Directorate of Criminal Investigations, Kenya Revenue Authority and Kenya Bureau of Standards destroyed contraband rice worth millions of shillings that was destined for the kitchen table.
It all starts at the expansive Mwea Irrigation Scheme, which produces 76 per cent of paddy in Kenya. There, cartels buy the high grade pishori and mix it with low quality products from Asia and pass it to unsuspecting buyers.
Farmers at the scheme are now worried since the unbranded cheap imports have taken a toll on locally produced rice.
“Consumers come for Mwea rice for the aroma that can be smelt from the packet, but they are finding it hard to tell the real one from the blend,” said Ms Mary Mumbi, a trader at Ngurabani centre in Mwea constituency.
“To tell pure pishori rice, aroma buyers should look out for a nice-looking slender grain. The amount of broken grains should be minimal or zero. It should also be polished white rice,” said Vincent Koskei, a manager at Mwea Irrigation Agriculture Development.
The manager said the sector needs a clear mandate of each stakeholder to avoid repetitiveness along the value chain to foster food security.
While a kilo of Mwea pishori rice goes for between Sh130 and Sh140, the imports are selling at Sh80 for the same quantity.
Today, it’s hard to get pure packaged pishori rice from Mwea, which was, for years, the most successful irrigation scheme in the country.
As a result, farmers in the 22,000-acre irrigation scheme, between Rivers Nyamindi and Thiba, hardly get premium price for their produce, which amounted to 121,000 tonnes last year.