Kenya: Farmers to access GM cotton next season to improve yield
Nov. 6, 2018
Kenya cotton farmers will be able to access genetically modified crops in the next long rains planting season.
Commercialisation of GM cotton got presidential approval during this year’s Mashujaa Day celebrations.
President Uhuru Kenyatta directed the ministries of health, agriculture, trade, industry and cooperatives to work together and come up with a quick mechanism to revitalise the cotton sub-sector.
This includes the possibility of farming high-yield, pest-resistant GM cotton.
Growing GM cotton will provide fresh impetus to the Big Four agenda, which includes revival of the textile and apparel industry. It is also expected to increase the contribution of the manufacturing sector to the country’s GDP from the current 9.2 per cent to 20 per cent by 2022.
Cotton farmer Daniel Magondu from Mwea East in Kirinyaga has been growing the crop for 20 years. He said despite attack by the bollworms, he has not abandoned the crop as it fetches more money than maize.
“A kilo of dry maize in the local market sells for Sh15, while a kilo of cotton is retailing at Sh46. The price could go up to Sh52 by next year,” Magondu told journalists on Tuesday.
He said many farmers have abandoned the cotton due to the bollworm pest. “One has to spray pesticides more than 12 times in a season and this is expensive and bad for the environment,” Magondu said.
Dr Charles Waturu, a principal GM cotton researcher at the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation, said researchers have been developing high-yield cotton that only needs to be sprayed three times a season.
He said GM cotton is any variety of cotton that has been genetically enhanced with Bt genes to protect it against the African bollworm, a major pest that destroys cotton.
Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) is a bacteria that occurs naturally in soil and has been used for more than 30 years to control caterpillars with biochemical insecticides, including thuricide.
“We have been researching for 17 years and with the political goodwill from our President, we hope to introduce Bt cotton by next year during the long rains planting season,” Waturu said.
National performance trials, spearheaded by the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Services, are underway in Bura, Matuga at the Coast, Kibos in Kisumu, Alupe in Busia, Kampi ya Mawe, Kerio Valley and Perkera sites.
Waturu said the cotton industry in Kenya collapsed in 1985 when the country was producing 70,000 bales per year but this has fallen to 28,000 bales.
“Our textile industry requires about 140,000 bales annually. The deficit is imported from Uganda and Tanzania but that cotton is not high quality like Kenyan cotton. Thus, the need to adopt Bt cotton,” he said.
Naomi Kamau, acting head of the Fibre Crops Directorate in the Agriculture and Food Authority, said about 39,000 farmers are growing cotton. In the 1980s about 70,000 farmers were producing cotton.
The average production per hectare in Kenya is 575 kilos or 28,000 bales annually, against the potential of 2,500 kilos per hectare or 260,000 bales annually. Kamau said.
The country has potential to grow cotton in 350,000 hectares under rain-fed agriculture and 35,000 hectares under irrigation, she said.
Kamau said the Export Processing Zones Authority window of importing fabrics from other countries like India and China is coming to an end in 2025. This means it will be necessary to produce more cotton to sustain the textile industry.
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