Kenya has been losing atleast 4,210 cotton farmers every year for the last 38 years due to low returns and importation of cheaper ready fabric from China and India.
This translates to 160,000 farmers or 80 per cent of the estimated 200,000 farmers who practiced cotton farming in the mid 1980s when the industry was at its peak.
According to the Manufacturing Sector deep drive report released on Thursday last week,,the exodus has seen Kenya become a net importer of cotton as the current home production cannot satisfy the demand.
As at January this year,Fibre Crops Directorate under the Ministry of Agriculture reported that Cotton farmers were producing about 30,000 bales against 368,000 bales of lint.
However, the report states that the average annual lint production stood at only about20,000 bales as at June 2018. This is 71.42 per cent decrease compared to 1984 when 70,000 bales of lint were recorded.
The low production has seen a decrease in ginneries from the registered 24 to only about 10 due to the low production of lint. The ginneries have an installed capacity of approximately 140,000 bales annually, but the utilised capacity is a meagre 20,000 bales.
In addition only 15 of the 52 integrated textile mills devoted to yarn and fabric production are operational, operating at 40-50 per cent of the installed capacity.
This has led to a decrease in cotton spinning among other fibres hence a reduction in yarn production that was exported to Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania in the 1990s.
According to the report, cotton growing is currently undertaken by small-scale farmers in marginal and arid areas on small land holdings averaging about 1 hectare. Only an estimated 40,000 farmers are believed to be active in the industry as at June 2018, atleast according to the report.
In January this year, the government through its Budgetary Policy Statement announced plans to expand acreage under cotton to 200,000 hectares, up from the current 29,000 before end of this year.
However, two months to the end of the year, it is not clear if the plan will be feasible as President Uhuru Kenyatta in his Mashujaa day speech announced to have instructed relevant ministries to come up with ways of reviving the industry.
“I have instructed the Ministries of Health, Agriculture and Trade, Industry and Cooperatives to work together and come up with a quick mechanism to revive the production of cotton – including the possibility of farming Biotechnology cotton,” Uhuru said.
In the Budget policy statement released by Treasury in January, the government banked on mass production of genetically modified cotton to create 50,000 jobs.
The new seeds are also expected to generate Sh20 billion in apparel export earnings this year as part of President Uhuru's final term economic revival plan.
In June 2017 through his official twitter account, the President announced plans to purchase the improved seeds to improve production of the crop in Western Kenya where cotton farming is largely practiced.
Kenya Association of Manufacturers Chairman Sachen Gudka told the Star yesterday that the government is currently doing tests of the seeds in different parts of the country.
“Use of BT-cotton would increase yield per acre and make us competitive however we need to be sure that it doesn't destroy the soil after a few yields,” Gudka said.