Experts in the cotton industry have expressed fears that the annual cotton seed production of 30,000 bales remains below country’s demand.
With the setting up of export processing zones in Kenya and production of new clothes locally, demand for cotton is rising but few Kenyans are producing cotton.
The experts meeting in Nairobi for the next few days say the local production currently only meets 7 percent of the local demand with the balance being imported
Fibre Crops Directorate Interim Head, Anthony Mureithi told KNA that the cotton production was at its peak in 1984 with an output reaching 70,000 bales but the trend has declined since the 1990s to date.
“The country deficits is estimated at 260,000 bales per year but Kenya currently imports 70,000 bales per annum mainly from Sudan, Uganda and Tanzania”, he said.
Kenya, he added has a potential production of 350,000 bales of lint from 300,000 hectares under rain fed agriculture and an additional 35,000 hectares under irrigation but yet out of the total land suitable for cotton farming only 30,000 hectares is currently in use.
The decline in production, Mureithi noted has been caused by combination of factors that include market liberalization, competition from synthesis fibres, disease and pest build up especially the African bollworm and cotton strainers.
“Poor crop management, low prices, high cost of inputs, inefficient marketing channels, over-dependence on rain-fed cotton growing and poor quality seeds have also contributed to the decline,” he adds.
To bridge the gap, government imports substantial amounts of cotton lint and seed cake for local textile mills and feed manufacture mainly from Tanzania and Uganda that produces 15 times and five times of Kenya’s production respectively every year.
During earlier days, Mureithi says Bura Irrigation Scheme used to produce 30 per cent of the national production and its decline has led to serious shortage with farmers resorting to recycling.
Experts in the cotton industry say that it is the high time Kenya moved to addressing Genetically Modified cotton and are calling on the government to appreciate the hard work scientists have undertaken and are continuing in fast tracking on agriculture biotechnology so that we move on and allow farmers to grow the Bt cotton.
Programme Officer, Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB) -Kenya Paul Chege, said the GM cotton is resistant against the cotton boll worm which affects cotton plant.
“The boll worm which has a 50 percent and to some extent 90 percent effect on the crops, affects the cotton bolls so that they are not able to bud and produce a flower hence low production,” he explains adding that farmers have to spray up to 12 times in a season of four-six month to control the pest and this is very expensive for the farmers.
“Bt cotton is resistant to the bollworm and farmers do not have to spray if they grow the cotton. They only need to spray against the mealybugs and also the aphids which do not require much spray and can also be controlled through irrigation,” says Chege.
Chege noted that Countries like Sudan, South Africa and India are growing GM cotton and are realizing yields of 1,500-2,000 kgs per two acres while the current production in Kenya is only 200-400 kgs per two acres, yet there is demand in the country.
Kenya Agricultural Livestock and Research Livestock (KALRO) Institute Director in Thika Dr. Charles Waturu said although there is enough land almost 400,000 hectares for growing cotton, only 29,000 is utilized.
He added that the cotton sub sector has been lacking in having organized seed production and certification system but the situation is changing as the fibre crops directorate together with seed companies has been making efforts to provide certified seeds.
Import certified seeds
Dr. Waturu said the industry which has seen farmers abandon the crop, might just go back and reclaim its glory in production of cotton to around 40,000 farmers if adoption of the genetically modified BT cotton is approved.
The KALRO and Monsanto from 2006-2014 has researched on GM cotton. An Environmental Impact Assessment has also been applied and approved by the National Biosafety Authority in accordance to 2009 Biosafety Act.
In March this year, government also confirmed that they would import certified seeds from Israel to distribute to local small scale farmers as part of reviving the industry.
The seed importation deal is meant to supplement local initiatives the government is undertaking to produce and commercialize the varieties.
According to Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Willy Bett, Government is addressing the challenges in the cotton industry by developing infrastructure for irrigation, capacity building of stakeholders and providing preferences and restrictive schemes and for textile manufacturers to supply government entities.
Bett confirmed that the yield potential of the seed is 2000 kilogrammes per hectare and thus it is a major step in addressing the yield gap and competitiveness of the value chain.
Globally, China is among the leading countries that produce 80 percent of the total cotton which stand at 26 million tonnes. The rest include India, USA, Pakistan, Brazil and Uzbekistan while the rest of the world Kenya included produces only 20 percent of the global cotton lint output.
By Wangari Ndirangu