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Lamu cotton farmers call for processing factory

Says it will create employment for the youths and its export will mean more benefits

In Summary

•There are more than 10,000 cotton farmers on over 5,000 acres of land in Lamu.

•Governor Fahim Twaha said plans are in place to establish Sh100 million cotton ginnery in Sinambio area.

Cotton ready to be harvested in a farm
Cotton ready to be harvested in a farm
Image: FILE

Cotton farmers in Lamu have called for a processing factory in the county saying the absence of such a facility makes them lose out to other counties.

Despite being the biggest producers of cotton in the county, the farmers have to take their produce to Kitui, Makueni and Meru, more than 1000km away, for processing.

“We are losing almost all opportunities there are in cotton. That is why we are still poor,” Mwangi Migwi, one of the leading cotton farmers in Lamu said.

He spoke on Saturday at the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) in Mtwapa, where Lamu cotton farmers underwent an eight-day training on the cotton value chain development.

The training was facilitated by KALRO, the Kenya Climate-Smart Agriculture Project and Agriculture and Food Authority.

There are more than 10,000 cotton farmers on over 5,000 acres of land in Lamu.

Migwi said the manufacturing multiplier effect goes out to other counties, which benefit more from Lamu cotton farming than the farmers themselves do.

“Employment goes to other counties and our children suffer joblessness,” he said.

The establishment of a factory in Lamu will mean the creation of employment for youth and with the port now in operation, the export of surplus processed cotton will mean more benefits.

“It will also help in the industrialization dreams of the government. We will be ready to provide the raw materials needed,” Migwi said.

A ginnery that was operating in the county was a private one and it collapsed over eight years ago.

Governor Fahim Twaha said plans are in place to establish Sh100 million cotton ginnery in Sinambio area.

Already, Sh20 million has been allocated to kick-start Phase 1 of the project.

“It is guaranteed to receive Sh20 million yearly for five years from the county, but we project an injection of more capital to speed up construction of the ginnery and other related components,” Twaha said.

Once complete, the project will feature a three-gin ginnery with the capacity to process 20,000 metric tonnes of cotton fibre annually from Lamu farmers, saving them from exploitative middlemen while increasing the sector's value addition.

Currently, Lamu is the leading cotton producer in the country, with an estimated 3,000 metric tonnes of cotton produced per year, followed by Meru (811 metric tonnes), Siaya (694 metric tonnes) and Homa Bay (468 metric tonnes).

Migwi said the county has the potential to produce over 30,000 metric tonnes annually.

Cotton was introduced in Kenya in 1902 and the highest ever production in the country was 38,000 metric tonnes in the 1984/85 crop growing season.

In 2019 and 2020, Kenya recorded the lowest production of 3,015 metric tonnes and 3,495 metric tonnes respectively.

The country has a national potential of 50,000 metric tonnes annually and can create employment for eight million people.

The cotton-growing areas in Lamu are Mpeketoni, Witu, Hindi, Baharini, Uziwa, Tewe, Hongwe and Wetemere in Lamu West.

The crop is also grown on medium scale in Faza Island in Lamu East.

Mpeketoni town, for instance, was established majorly for cotton growing only for the sector to collapse years later due to lack of a market. 

He said most felt discouraged and abandoned cotton farming for other crops.

Frequent resistant pest invasions were also part of the reason they abandoned the crop. 

“Despite being the number one producers of cotton in Kenya, Lamu cotton farmers are still poor because of poor seeds, old methods of cotton farming and frequent attacks by pests who are resistant to the pesticides used,” he said.

Migwi who is also the Lamu County Cotton Farmers Cooperative chair said they do not have certified cotton seeds.

The variety they use mostly are hybrid seeds from India. For the last two years, they have received 32 metric tonnes of the variety through the Lamu county government and the AFA.

This year, the county government procured 4.5 metric tonnes of the seeds for the more than 10,000 cotton farmers in the county.

“However, these are not the best seeds for our climate and they are not enough for the farmers,” he said.

Local varieties like HART 89M and KSA 81M, Migwi said, are more resistant to diseases and pests, suitable to the Lamu farmers but they are in low production because of financial challenges.

These varieties are locally produced by organizations like KALRO and have the potential to produce 2,500kg per hectare.

“So, we call upon the national government to help us by allocating more funds to KALRO so that they can produce more of this variety of seeds, which are herbicide-tolerant,” Migwi said.

He said importing cotton seeds from foreign countries yet Kenya, through KALRO, can produce better quality seeds is wasting resources.

Waiting for seeds from foreign countries could delay the planting season.

This year, for instance, seeds delayed and were it not for the rains delaying up to June, the farmers could have missed the opportunity to plant cotton, which usually starts in April.

Migwi also called for a collective approach to cotton farming in Lamu.

Currently, he said, most of the farming is done individually because there are no structures to allow a collective approach to farming.


Edited by Kiilu Damaris