CASH CROP

Bt cotton will help check cheap Mitumba

Cotton was Kenya’s second-biggest employer in the 1970s, after the public service.

In Summary
  • Increasing variety’s production will allow Kenyans to buy more affordable, locally made clothes.
  • Cotton growing is a key economic sub-sector, with the potential to benefit eight million people in the drier areas.
Cotton ready to be harvested in a farm
Cotton ready to be harvested in a farm
Image: FILE

President Uhuru Kenyatta’s approval of insect-resistant, genetically modified Bt cotton for commercial use last month gives Kenyan farmers impetus to revive a cash crop now lost to pests.

Climate change, coupled with bollworm infestation, has had a telling effect, with more than 80 percent of cotton farmers abandoning the crop’s cultivation, shrinking the country’s production to 21,000 bales per year.

The approval will bring a great change to cotton farmers, especially those living in arid and semi-arid areas where pests and diseases thrive, because Bt cotton has an inbuilt mechanism to resist pests.

Cotton was Kenya’s second-biggest employer in the 1970s, after the public service, according to the African Agricultural Technologies Foundation. Now there’s a chance to revitalise the sector, with experts projecting that by mid-2022, Bt cotton’s cultivation will create 700,000 direct and indirect jobs, reducing Kenya’s fabric imports to nearly zero.

Results from field trials shown that farmers are likely to gain more by farming the variety in comparison to those currently in use. The conventional variety produces just 10 bolls per stem, while the Bt variety yields more than 35. The number of bolls determines the kilos of cotton a farmers can harvest.

Researchers from the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization who harvested cotton grown in the field trial planted at Mwea determined that the Bt cotton yields 6.1 tonnes per hectare, while the conventional cotton planted alongside it produced just 1.5 tonnes.

Farmers who witnessed the National Performance Trials attested that Bt cotton was able to beat pests without much pesticide spraying, meaning that growing the variety will help reduce production costs. But good agricultural practices and enhanced extension services are still needed for farmers to fully harness the full potential of cotton farming. 

Researchers from the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization who harvested cotton grown in the field trial planted at Mwea determined that the Bt cotton yields 6.1 tonnes per hectare, while the conventional cotton planted alongside it produced just 1.5 tonnes.

Low production has failed to supply the 120,000 bales of lint used per year by the textile industry, requiring Kenya to import more than half of what it needs. During last June’s re-launch of the Rivatex textile factory in Eldoret, Uhuru observed that the production of Bt cotton will undoubtedly boost the textile industry and create a more sustainable livelihood for cotton farmers.

Vision 2030 identifies cotton as a key economic sub-sector, with the potential to benefit eight million people in the drier areas. Kenya has the estimated potential to produce 260,000 bales of cotton if the area under cultivation is increased.

Kenya National Bureau of Statistics data from January-March 2017 showed that Kenya spent Sh4.41 billion importing footwear and second-hand clothes.

The data showed that mitumba imports have been on an upward trend, reaching Sh12 billion. This can be reversed if farmers increase cotton production, allowing Kenyans to buy affordable, locally made clothes.

The commercial farming of Bt cotton will boost the manufacturing pillar of the President’s Big 4 agenda, where Kenya seeks to establish itself as a regional leader in textile and apparel production.