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End of 18 year wait in sight as BT cotton goes commercial

Commercialization of BT cotton, slated for March 2020 will increase production capacity and bring the country closer to realizing the manufacturing agenda of the big four.
According to agricultural researchers, cotton seeds will be availed to farmers in 27 cotton farming devolved units making the end of an 18 year wait period.
Adoption of the genetically modified variety, which is resistant to the destructive African Ball worm, is also expected to lower the cost of production by 40 percent.
Currently a farmer is required to spray the crop about six times per season while on average it cost Sh1500 per acre per session, which translates to Sh 9000, to fight ball worms, red mites and other pests.
“Pest control on the available varieties takes 32 percent of all production costs. Persistent use of synthetic pesticides is expensive and destroys beneficial and induces pesticide resistance,” said Principal BT cotton researcher and center director Dr. Charles Waturu from the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research (Karlo) center in Thika, Kiambu County.
Currently the country produces an average of 25,000 bales against a demand of 200,000 bales of lint, with a deficit covered through imports from Uganda, Tanzania and the Far East to support export processing Zone (EPZ).
According to fiber crop directorate, the country has about 50,000 farmers growing cotton who are only able to produce 30,000 bales against an annual demand of 368,000 bales
The farmers are only able to utilize 10.04 percent of 384,500 hectare in the country suitable for cotton growing producing 572 kilograms per hectare.
Recently, President Uhuru Kenyatta commissioned Rivatex Company which was revamped to the tune of about Sh5 billion to promote production of textile using locally available sourced cotton.
“Current cotton production cannot sustain the modernized Rivatex and other mills in Kenya,” said Waturu.
Meanwhile, there are only four ginneries in operation countrywide including Makueni, Kitui, Meru and Salawa while there are 22 established factories.
Meru ginnery general manager David Kihoro says they have installed spinning capacity of 20,000 tons per day but due to low volumes of the crop the factory only process 1000 tons per year.
“Key challenge to our ginning process is lack of raw materials,” said Kihoro. The total installed annual ginning capacity is 140,000 bales.
Cotton production has been affected by high energy costs, low competitiveness, lack of subsidies, poor technology, competition from cheap imports, inadequate quality seeds, poor management of pests and diseases, inefficient marketing channels and rain fed farming, added Waturu.
The state is keen to have BT cotton commercialized because of its ability to support the manufacturing arm of the Big Four agenda after years of a steady decline.
According to Waturu, production of BT cotton can increase income in the textile industry from the current Sh3.5 billion to Sh2 Trillion by 2022.
“The country can create 500,000 cotton jobs and 100,000 new jobs in cloth making,” he said.
The cotton industry collapsed between the late 1980s and 90s after the liberalization of the agriculture sector following introduction of SAPs by World Bank and international monetary fund, leading to the closure of most ginneries in operation.
Tana River, Meru, Makueni and Kitui counties used to produce more than half of the national production.
By Irungu Mwangi

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