Death of cotton industry in Kenya as revival strategy fails

Paul Korim works on his cotton farm at Serwok village in Salawa, Baringo County. He is one of the three remaining cotton farmers in Kerio Valley. [PHOTO: KIPSANG JOSEPH/Standard]
BARINGO: Shadrack Kiptanok was once a successful cotton farmer but not anymore.

"Things have changed," says the elderly man, speaking from 30-year experience of cotton farming.

Mr Kiptanok remembers the 1970s to 1990s when huge sums were spent developing cotton farming, ginneries, spinning and textile manufacturing industries. It was also a time when co-operatives were strong.

"I farmed my four-acre parcel of land alone. From that, I was able to raise money and pay my children's school fees," says Kiptanok from Baringo.

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The profit from his small cotton farm provided enough for his children and even for the disadvantaged in the society. He bought more land, more cows and built a permanent house.

"Everything I have has been built using cotton proceeds. But now there is nothing," he says adding that farmers are paid less than a quarter of what they received in 1970s.

He says the national government has abandoned cotton farmers and neither do they get any support from the government of Baringo County.

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"This cotton could turn our lives around in a couple of years if handled properly," he says.

Paul Korim, a fellow farmer from Serwok in Baringo, says he will not risk having his life being turned upside down again by the uncertainty of farming cotton.

He says when the Cotton Board used to support them, they could be sure they had the right inputs while extension workers taught them how to raise the best cotton.

"There was help, there was credit and there was a promising future. Now you just struggle on your own and if help comes around, farmers will have to pay for it dearly," says Korim.

Standing in the middle of a small field of cotton plants, the 61-year-old father of several children explains that with such high risks, he cannot afford to plant more than two acres of cotton on his farm.

"We lose a lot of cotton to pests. Then when we take the cotton to the ginnery, they tell us it is not clean cotton and we get low prices," he says.

An ideal harvest should give up to 500 kilogrammes of cotton lint per acre but yields have dropped to as little as 100kg from the same acreage.

Korim now has most of his land under subsistence crops as cotton farming faces a bleak future. Within the last two years, cultivation has fallen from about 10,000 acres to less than 500 acres as farmers shift to other ventures like horticulture, livestock keeping, mango and maize farming.

About five years ago, the Government embarked on an aggressive marketing strategy to encourage farmers to invest in the crop following the passing of the Cotton Amendment Bill 2006, which led to the formation of the Cotton Development Authority (Coda) to oversee cotton revitalisation.

But the farmers said Coda has not been doing enough to save the situation.

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