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Farmers from dry Yatta vow to make cotton their cash crop after good proceeds

Cotton farmers from Yatta in Machakos County weighing their produce at a buying centre on Tuesday July 21, 2020. Photo by KNA.
Cotton farmers from Yatta, Machakos County loading their cotton onto a lorry after a Thika- based Textile Company bought their produce on Tuesday July 21, 2020. Photo by Charles Muoki/KNA.

Cotton farmers in the semi-arid Yatta and Masinga Sub Counties in Machakos County are a happy lot after a local textile company purchased all their cotton produce, a relief during this difficult Covid-19 period.

The farmers who started planting the crop last year after abandoning it 20 years ago due to frustrations from brokers, said the crop has proved lucrative and that they would make it the area’s cash crop to wipe out poverty in an area known to depend heavily on relief food.

They had entered into an agreement with the Thika Cloth Mill (TCM), a textile company that makes school uniforms and fabrics for the uniformed services, to reintroduce the crop in the area.

The company gave them free seedlings, fertilizers and pesticides and agreed to buy the produce favourably, luring a number of farmers.

During the last one-week period, the company has bought cotton worth in excess of Sh.2 million from Ndalani area, Yattta constituency, and more cotton is in the farms nearing maturity.

When the government locked down the Nairobi Metropolis to curb the spread of Covid-19, the farmers were a stressed lot, as their buyer had been locked in.

“We had just harvested our produce, but the buyer could not come, as she had been locked in the Metropolis. All our hopes were on her and this made us regret planting the crop,” said Nzuki Ndonye, a farmer from Mavoloni, Yatta Sub County.

Cotton was introduced in the area in 1970, and farmers found it lucrative. However, the cooperative societies through which they used to sell their produce collapsed, while others accrued huge farmers’ debts forcing them to abandon the crop for maize and beans. However, the area experiences crop failure due to erratic rains, making them rely heavily on relief food.

During a press tour of the area Tuesday, the farmers lauded the government’s move to revive the cotton sector saying it has led to the reintroduction of cotton farming in dry lands, thereby improving livelihoods.

David Kioko Kitiku said were it not for this government’s move, farmers in dry areas would have remained poor forever only relying on relief food.

Kitiku received Sh.50, 000 from his produce, and has more cotton in his two-acre cotton plantation. He says this is only the beginning and hopes to increase acreage under cotton in the coming rainy season.

“This is the change that we need in the agricultural sector. The satisfaction of a farmer is in returns on investment and we are happy. In the coming rainy season, I will have four acres under cotton. We have relied so much on maize and beans but have all the time regretted,” said Kitiku.

The farmers called on the Machakos County government to send agricultural extension officers to guide them on how to maximize production.

They also decried the area’s poor roads, which kept potential customers from buying their produce.

Dickson Kariuki, the Manager of Thika Cloths Mills  who led the buying exercise said they targeted to get about 10,000 tons of cotton from Yatta and Masinga Sub Counties. They have also entered into partnership with farmers in Mpeketoni in Lamu County and other parts of Western, and Meru Counties to buy all their cotton.

“We hope that in the coming years, the country’s cotton production will meet our demand. We had challenges of getting stock in Uganda and Rwanda markets. We hope our farmers can now undertake large scale cotton farming since they are assured of a ready market,” he said.

The farmers sold a kilogram of their produce at Sh.52, a rise from the Sh.30 that brokers offer. They also received seeds, fertilizers and pesticides for free from the company.

The  TCM is known for production of school and company uniforms, bedsheets and fabrics for uniformed forces. Just a few months ago, the company received a government tender to make fabrics for the General Service Unit (GSU) and the Kenya Forest Service (KFS) to cushion it from collapsing due to the adverse effects of Covid-19.

“During this time, we lost 25 percent of our market due to the containment. We could not transport our produce outside the Metropolis and again the schools have been closed, shrinking our market further. However, we are moving with speed to recapture the lost market and recall all our workers,” said Kariuki.

By  Muoki  Charles

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