Cotton Can Be Kenya’s Future Economic Driver

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  • According to the Agriculture and Food Authority, cotton growing in Kenya can support up to 200,000 farmers
  • Adoption of Bt cotton is expected to lower cost of production by 40%
  • Twenty one counties produce cotton
  • The country can create 500,000 cotton jobs and 100,000 new jobs in cloth making

Despite cotton farming declining in many parts of the country, the industry has been identified as an important future economic driver. According to the Agriculture and Food Authority, cotton growing in Kenya can support up to 200,000 farmers.

Just 30,000 farmers are currently growing cotton. Only 21,000 hectares are under cotton production (572 kilogrammes per hectare) even as the country has a production potential of 400,000 hectares, according to the authority. Demand for cotton is high in the country.

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Only 21,000 bales of lint are produced annually against a demand of 140,000, Dickson Kibata of the Fibre Crops Directorate, said in Nairobi. As the country gears up for the adoption of genetically modified (Bt) cotton before the end of the year, there is a potential production of 420,000 bales, he said.

"Adoption of Bt cotton is expected to lower the cost of production by 40% cent," Kibata said. Given that cotton production has gone down because of pests, diseases, poor management of the industry and changed weather patterns, the introduction of biotechnology could revive the fortunes of cotton farmers, despite the numerous failures of the technology in other parts of the world.

In 2017, for example, only 20,717 hectares were under cotton, down from 28,700 in 2016. Already, the Horticulture Research Institute has started national performance trials of Bt cotton in Kisumu after the National Environmental Management Authority gave the green light.

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Challenges in Kenya's cotton sector

"Cotton has a long value chain, from production, ginning, spinning, weaving, garment and non-apparel making as well as production in peripheral industries such as oil, animal feed and production of sanitary wares," Kibata said. Despite the huge economic potential of cotton, only five ginneries out of 23 are working countrywide. "The total installed annual ginning capacity of ginneries is 140,000 bales. The combined available operating ginning capacity is 70,000 bales at full capacity for six months," Kibata added.

He advised county governments to establish revolving funds to facilitate the buying of seed. "One of the main challenges the country faces is lack of quality seeds and a high cost of production," he said.

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