Kwale residents embracing cotton farming

Rift Valley Textiles (RIVATEX) Managing Director Prof. Thomas Kipkurgat at the modern spinning plant in Eldoret. [Kevin Tunoi]

Residents of Ngathini village in Lunga Lunga sub-county have welcomed efforts to revive cotton farming locally.

Base Titanium-an Australian titanium mining firm, has announced a partnership with Business for Development to breath some life back to the erstwhile booming cotton farming.

Cotton has a rich history in Kwale, having been one of the key cash crops in the  early 1980s.

Its return comes on the heels of another landmark revival in the textile industry-that of Rivatex East Africa Limited.

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For the first time in three decades, farmers in Kwale say there is a glimmer of hope.

“We have been waiting to start planting the crop for a long time,” said Anna Alex.

When The Standard visited, she was just emerging from her two acre farm on which she has inter-cropped cotton and maize.

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She wished she had only planted cotton after wild animals invaded the farm and cleared much of the maize crop.

If it had been cotton alone, she would not be counting such heavy losses from the invasion.

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Besides, cotton does better than maize in the area.

“Cotton thrives well here. It can withstand this kind of climate,” she said.

Anna is just beginning to plant cotton after a three-decade hiatus due to lack of market and motivation for small-scale farmers.

It was only after Base Titanium came on board and convinced her that cotton farming was still a viable business venture that she cautiously started planting the crop again, this time inter-cropping.

One cannot blame her for being too cautious; she has been there before.

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“The last time I actively planted cotton was in 1989. In the 1980s lorries used to park outside my shop loading bales of cotton. All my children went to school because of cotton farming,” she said.

With the entry of Base Titanium and signs that Kenya's textile industry was slowly getting back to its feet, Anna's hopes are rising every day.

“I definitely had lost hope. But I have decided to give it a try once more and see what happens,” she said.

The story is the same for Simon Mutuku, another small-scale farmer who is being supported to re-start cotton farming. Like many farmers, he, too had given up on cotton.

“When we started there were only three of us, but the number has been increasing steadily. There are now 20 of us farming cotton," he said.

Firm's efforts

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Base Titanium’s efforts in supporting the revival of the cotton industry started in 2014 with trials on viability, quality and suitable varieties for the region. Working with other partners, the firm hopes to expand Kwale Cotton Programme to 10,000 farmers.

"The programme has a positive impact in many parts of the county, including the host resettlement site and communities adjacent to the mine. It now supports 2,500 small-scale farmers who are involved in cultivating about 1,500 acres of cotton," the firm said in a statement.

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