Farmers dream big with cotton project

Farmers grow cotton in small scale despite the harsh weather conditions and lack of enough water. [Christopher Kipsang, Standard]

Cotton farmers in Teso North, Busia County are a happy lot. They are beneficiaries of a cotton farming initiative championed by Rivatex.

In Kakapel village, Mr Mathew Olamong and his wife Mary Akisa, shared with The Smart Harvest the highs and lows they have faced with cotton farming.

The two ventured into cotton farming in 1961, and have seen the good and bad times. Years of neglect and mismanagement saw the sector go in ruins dashing the hopes of many a farmers like Olamong.

In a bid to cope, many ditched the crop and embraced maize and wheat. But slowly, things are changing thanks to more promising varieties like genetically modified Bt cotton. More farmers are warming up to the idea of growing cotton on commercial basis.

“We have raised our children using proceeds from cotton. Things were bad at the beginning, but now they are looking up with Bt cotton. We are now at the forefront championing for increased acreage of the crop,” Olamong says.

Olamong says previously, they were focusing on the traditional varieties which were low yielding and prone to attacks by pests.

Now they are focusing on the more promising Bt cotton. Bt cotton variety was released by the government in 2020 in a bid to revive the cotton industry. This variety has been genetically improved to resist infestation by the African bollworm, the single most destructive cotton pest in Kenya. Statistics show that pest infestation accounts for 45 per cent of on-farm losses. 

Ready cotton for picking in Koitilial village, Arror ward in Elgeyo Marakwet County. [Christopher Kipsang, Standard]

The introduction of Bt cotton has brough new fortunes for farmers.

“We started with conventional varieties, whose returns were not much, but the current Bt seeds have impressive yields. From the initial 400 kgs per acre, we now harvest 1,000 kilos, which is impressive,” Akisa says.

John Emisa, from Korsai location plants two acres of cotton which he says earns him over Sh100,000 per year.

Amisa says the introduction of Bt cotton has brought back smiles to the faces of many farmers. Many of them are now on the second planting season.

“This new cotton has many benefits. The cotton takes only three months to mature and is ready for harvest. We want our farmers to sell the produce through the cooperatives to boost their income,” Amisa says.

So far, more than 2,000 farmers in western have received Bt cotton seeds and pesticides from Rivatex East Africa.

Rivatex Managing Director Professor Thomas Kipkurgat says the company supports farmers because they have high potential of producing raw materials for the textile industry.

“We are now encouraging them to increase their acreage so that they can produce more because there is a ready market for their produce. The world is currently looking at Africa for production of lint for purposes of textile and processing of other products,” says Kipkurgat.

He says the company is supporting farmers drawn from 22 counties through its cotton programmes.

“We recognise that, for textile industries to continue having sustainable growth, they must have a reliable source of raw materials,” he says.

Agricultural Food Authority (AFA), Teso region official Chrispine Amuono says the region has the potential to produce more cotton if farmers embark on early planting and follow the best crop practices. 

“Farmers are now embracing Bt cotton which has high yields. It is now up to the groups to work amicably within their cooperatives so that they can have double yields,” says Amuono.

He says the government has disbursed Sh60 million for the revival of Mulwanda ginnery which had stalled.

“My plea is for farmers to increase the yield from 150 metric tonnes in 2020 to more than 500 tonnes this year with Bt cotton.”

Before the decline of the sector Homa Bay, Elgeyo Marakwet, Makweni, Kirinyaga, Teso, Baringo, Meru, Tana-River were among the top cotton growing regions.

Rivatex East Africa started in its operation in 1976 before it was sold to Moi University in 2007.