Cotton was once among Kenya’s cash crops, supporting over half a million farmers and industry employees in the 80s and 90s. Textile companies such as Kisumu Cotton Mills (KICOMI) and Rift Valley Textiles (Rivatex) were household names in East Africa, with their high quality products ubiquitous around the region.
But with the decline of cotton farming over the years, these companies became shells of their former selves, and thousands of workers and people who depended on the sector lost their livelihoods. The country had to depend on imported raw materials, which further dented local farming and Kenya's finished products became uncompetitive in regional markets.
It is against this background that we commend Moi University for the launch of a state-of-the-art production plant at Rivatex. The modernisation – through a Sh2 billion credit line from India – is a positive signal for farmers to revive their cotton enterprises because the market for their produce has been expanded. Currently, only a tenth of Kenya’s cotton potential is exploited, according to official data.
To its credit, the government has renewed its focus on the textile sector through budgetary and policy support; and significant progress has been made especially in development of a resilient cotton variety, BT Cotton. The Treasury has also extended incentives to woo investors in the industry.
The new plant, we hope, will help Kenya to increase its exports to the global market and especially America under the African Growth and Opportunity Act. But our optimism is tinged with caution, for we have seen other factories that were recently revived and modernised fail to live up to expectations. One of them is Webuye Paper Mills that after being sold to private hands, failed to deliver to its promise.
That said, the upgrade of Rivatex – and launch of a Digital Assembly Plant at the same university - will boost the government’s plan to create more jobs by expanding the manufacturing sector under the Big Four agenda. Coupled with research, the textile output will be a significant boost for Kenya’s industry and a shot in the arm of the country’s agriculture sector.