In the 80s and 90s, Kenya cotton industry was thriving with commercial and small scale production in Western, Nyanza, Eastern and Coastal regions relying on the crop for income generation. However, years of neglect and introduction of second hand clothes led to the collapse of both cotton ginneries as well as textile manufactures, crumbling the sector.
Now the industry has got a relief from the highest office in the land. During the Mashujaa day (Heroes day), President Uhuru Kenyatta ordered several ministries to explore the possibilities of introducing cotton genetically engineered with a soil borne bacteria called Bacillus thuringiensis, or simply Bt in order to raise the fortune of the crop.
“Cotton farming was once a major source of income and livelihood for many people in this (western) region,” the president observed. “As such, I have instructed the Ministries of Health, Agriculture and Trade, Industry and Cooperatives to work together and come up with a quick mechanism to revive the production of cotton – including the possibility of farming BT cotton.”
Trials for the growth and introduction of Bt Cotton has been ongoing in Kenya for a while but has not been fully commercialized as different ideologies on the safety of the GM cotton has hindered the expansion.
Despite the country having a Biotechnology policy as well as a Biosafety Act, there has been a slow uptake of the technology which incidentally farmers have been demanding.
BT cotton is resistant to bollworm pests and can up farmers’ production eight times from the current yields of 30,000 to 240,000 bales a year which is much more as compared to over 70,000 bales produced in 1985 when the sector was thriving.
It is also estimated that this variety of cotton could create 50,000 jobs and generate Sh20 billion in apparel export earnings in Kenya alone.
Responding to the Presidential backing, scientists in Kenya have said this now paves way for eventual exploitation of the technology by Kenyan farmers.
“Great day for progressive agricultural technology in Kenya and hope for Cotton farmers,” Margaret Karembu, the Africentrer director of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA).
Kenyan cotton #farmers beaming with hope as the President .@UKenyatta directs his ministries to deliver #BtCotton to them .@afri_isaaa .@aatfafrica .@OfabAfrica .@kalromkulima .@nacosti #MashujaaDay2018 #BigFourActionPlan pic.twitter.com/yMjtEK3FkT
— OFABKenya (@OFABKenya) October 20, 2018
However, the last time there was an inter-ministerial committee to review use of GM products in Kenya led to a ban on GM crops leading to long condemnation by scientists.
Despite Kenya having an open door for trading on textile products to the US through the Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), it continues to suffer due to high costs of importing raw material especially cotton from other countries and reselling to the US.
Equally, the influx of cheap clothing from India, Turkey, and China has led the struggling textile industry to suffer more.