Cotton farmers in Lamu want the sector revived and ginneries established for farmers to reap maximum benefits.
Waihiga Kinungi, a cotton farmer in Mpeketoni, says there is need for the establishment of at least one ginnery in the region or revival of the old TSS ginners in order to give farmers a ray of hope.
Many are now said to be opting for other crops which can fetch them quick money since cotton is no longer profitable.
“We put in so much in terms of seedlings, fertilisers, labour and pesticides because we know the crop has potential. But with cunny middlemen, we find ourselves spending more and getting less during sales.
“We are still hoping the revival of the TSS ginners will happen or better still, the county government will put up another ginnery for us,” said Kinungi.
Currently, Lamu cotton farmers have to sell their cotton to middle men from Makueni and Kitui.
Kinungi says farmers have been forced to sell their cotton at Sh42 per kilogramme but argues that considering the input that consists of fertilisers, seedlings and hiring of tractors during the planting period, a kilo should go for at least Sh65.
He says due to the losses incurred, he has now halted his cotton farming and has now embarked on large-scale water melon production as he waits for the lucky star to once again shine bright for cotton farmers.
Chairperson of the Lamu County Cotton producers Joseph Migwi says constant invasions by pests identified as ‘mealy bug’ was also part of the reason many cotton farmers lost heart and opted out since it was resistant to all pesticides.
Migwi harvests dropped from over 800 kilograms of cotton per acre to less than 200kg an acre.
“It’s such a stubborn pest. We have tried all manner of pesticides but the pest seems to thrive even more with what we use. Thousands of acres of cotton have been wasted.
“In the meantime, we are done growing cotton. There is need for urgent interventions or else cotton farming will be a thing of the past,”says Migwi.
The farmers also want the concerned offices to come with better cotton species that will be resistant to the harsh conditions of the region and boost production of the crop. “We have been using one species since 1989 which is no longer able to withstand all these conditions in Lamu including the constant drought spells experience here,”he adds.
Lamu deputy governor Eric Mugo, who is also the agriculture executive, says the county government was working on a plan that would ensure the sector receives the necessary incentives to grow.
According to Daniel Kariuki, the Lamu agricultural project supervisor, more than 5000 cotton farmers have now quit growing the crop and embarked on growing different crops.
Kariuki however stresses that with the necessary mechanisms in place, farmers will be able to determine the price they want to sell their produce and will also be able to compare the cotton price trends with other cotton producing counties hence reap productively from the crop.
Lamu county has more than 10,000 cotton farmers in Mpeketoni and Witu divisions. Some of the cotton producing areas in Lamu West include Baharini, Uziwa,Tewe and Wetemere.
The crop is also grown on medium scale in Faza and Pate in Lamu East.
“Any investment must bring some form of profit and if doesn’t, people will always shift their energy and attention to something they feel is more productive. Lamu produces the best quality cotton and it will be a shame if we lose out on all that just because we couldn’t stitch in time,” adds Kariuki.