Lack of quality seeds and poor prices have contributed to low cotton production in Kenya.
But cotton farmers will soon have access to certified seeds, thanks to field trials being carried out by the fibre crops directorate.
Rosemary Mboya, from village seven in Bura, has grown cotton since 1983 and she has seen a drop in yield production from her one and half acres.
“I used to harvest about 2,500 kilogrammes and sell at Sh5 per kg, which was a lot of money because expenses such as fertiliser, herbicide and water were not so expensive. Now all that has gone up but if this programme succeeds, we will now sell one kg at Sh50 as they have promised, we will be able to make money,” says Rosemary.
She adds that initially, the government used to spray chemicals for them using an aeroplane but when that stopped, it was expensive and most farmers could not afford to spray for themselves so they shifted to other alternative crops.
Cotton farmers are faced with many challenges including market for their produce. Initially, the ginneries bought all the product from farmers but now they only buy some kilos and leave the rest.
Spraying of chemicals is another challenge as farmers risk getting sick when spraying their crops.
“Here in Bura, you have to spray after seven days of planting and again when it has flowered and the pods have started forming. By this time, the crop is normally too tall for some farmers to spray and we risk getting sick. If hope the researchers can get a variety that is short for farmers to be able to spray with ease, then we can be able to continue planting. Cotton is like a grade cow, if you take care of it, you will get good yields,” she added.
Joseph Mutisya, also a cotton farmer, said when Bura Scheme collapsed, many farmers stopped growing cotton because the government was not buying the produce.
“We used to sell our cotton in Hola and Malindi but the ginneries closed and we could not sell. I urge the government to work with cooperative societies to provide inputs to farmers,” he says.
Anthony Mureithi interim director of fibre crops directorate says the current seed being used has degenerated over time and is not pure, leading to low productivity. “This is why we have established a system for production of certified seeds under irrigation. The seed multiplication is established in Bura irrigation scheme and plans are underway to continue the production to the next couple of years/seasons to cover all regions,” he says.
Mureithi adds that about 10,000 farmers will benefit from the certified seeds in the first season, and this quantity will be gradually increased during the subsequent seasons by contracting farmers to bulk the seed. “It is envisaged that all farmers shall plant certified cotton seeds within three years from now,” he says. Kenya has a potential of 350,000 hectares suitable for rain-fed crop production and 35,000 hectares of irrigated cotton. This combined potential can produce an estimated 200,000 metric tonnes of seed cotton.
Currently, about 40,000 farmers are involved in cotton production mainly growing KSA 81M and HART 89M commercial varieties. “KSA variety is currently grown in Nyanza, Western Kenya and parts of Rift Valley, it takes 170 days to mature. It is fairly resistant to verticillium wilt and jassids. Hart 89M variety is grown in Central, Eastern Kenya and Coast province and takes 300 days to mature in Central and Eastern while taking 150 days in the Coast. It is resistant to bacterial wilt and jassids,” Mureithi says.
Henry Olweny, Fibre Crops senior officer technical and advisory service says they are carrying out seven varieties trial to find out suitability and adaptability. “For a long time cotton farmers have been getting low quality seeds which has resulted to low productivity, This has made the crop less competitive compared to other fibre crops like,” says Olweny, adding that not much research has been done for the last 30 years.
He says they are doing trials on hybrids from India, Zimbabwe and also for the conventional and local varieties to find out the yield potential and fibre quality.
“We are using hybrids from India as we share a lot in common in terms of climatic and rainfall patterns. India is also the strongest country in hybrid and leading in cotton production in the world,” adds Olweny. The trials are being carried out for farmers in Bura, since it has been done elsewhere and found to produce two to three more yields.