Cotton touted as country’s future key economic driver

Harvesting cotton in a farm. As Kenya gears up for the adoption of genetically modified (Bt) cotton, there is a potential production of 420,000 bales.

By BERNADINE MUTANU

Despite cotton farming grinding to a halt in many parts of the country, the industry has been identified as an important future economic driver.

According to the Agriculture and Food Authority, cotton growing in Kenya can support up to 200,000 farmers.

Just 30,000 are growing cotton. Only 21,000 hectares are under cotton production (572 kilogrammes per hectare) while the country has a production potential of 400,000 hectares, according to the authority.

This is despite the fact that cotton has a high demand.

Only 21,000 bales of lint are produced annually against a demand of 140,000, Mr Dickson Kibata of the Fibre Crops Directorate, said in Nairobi.

As the country gears up for the adoption of genetically modified (Bt) cotton before the end of the year, there is a potential production of 420,000 bales, he said.

“Adoption of Bt cotton is expected to lower the cost of production by 40 per cent,” Mr Kibata said.
Bt cotton withstands pests and diseases and is of high quality.

Given that cotton production has gone down because of pests, diseases, poor management of the industry and changed weather patterns, the introduction of biotechnology is sweet music to the ears of thousands of farmers who abandoned the crop.

In 2017, for example, only 20,717 hectares were put under cotton, down from 28,700 in 2016.

Twenty one counties produce cotton. They include Kitui, Machakos, Makueni, Isiolo, Embu Tana River, Taita-Taveta, Kwale, Kilifi and Lamu.

Already, the Horticulture Research Institute has started national performance trials of Bt cotton in Kisumu after the National Environmental Management Authority gave the green light.

CHALLENGES ENCUMBERING COTTON SECTOR

“Cotton has a long value chain, from production, ginning, spinning, weaving, garment and non apparel making as well as production in peripheral industries such as oil, animal feed and production of sanitary wares,” Mr Kibata said.

Despite the huge economic potential of cotton, only five ginneries out of 23 are working countrywide. Nyanza has one operational ginnery, Eastern three while Rift Valley has one.

“The total installed annual ginning capacity of ginneries is 140,000 bales. The combined available operating ginning capacity is 70,000 bales at full capacity for six months,” Mr Kibata added.

He advised county governments to establish revolving funds to facilitate the buying of seed.

“One of the main challenges the country faces is lack of quality seeds and a high cost of production,” he said.

“Cotton production has been affected by high energy costs, low competitiveness, lack of subsidies, poor technology, competition from cheap imports, inadequate quality seed, poor management of pests and diseases, inefficient marketing channels and rain fed farming,” the Director of Horticulture Research Institute and the principal investigator of Bt cotton Charles Waruturu, said.

He added that through production of this type of cotton, Kenya can increase income in the textile industry from Sh3.5 billion to Sh2 trillion by 2022.

“The country can create 500,000 cotton jobs and 100,000 new jobs in cloth making,” Dr Waruturu said.

“Pest control takes 32 per cent of all production costs, persistent use of synthetic pesticides is expensive, destroys beneficial arthropods and induces pesticide resistance.”
~ Nation Media Group

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