Seventy-eight-year-old Teresio M’Arimi commands immense respect in local farming circles in Donyo Sabu, Buuri Sub County, Meru County. His name M’Arimi actually means the ‘people’s farmer’ in Kimeru, a fact that sees many flock to his farm to learn cotton growing.
While other farmers have moved to exotic and promising crops, since 1975, he has faithfully been growing cottonand has earned the respect and admiration of locals and county officials.
“When you have an intimate knowledge of something you are its master and I have endeavoured to learn everything about cotton,” says Arimi, who has over 13 acres under the crop.
Arimi says when he started growing cotton in the 70s, his goal was to make a decent living out of it despite the odds.
When he was starting, Arimi planted the seed cotton on two acres but now has more than 10 acres. He also plants maize, beans and other crops for subsistence on a separate four acres.
His neighbours were also into cotton growing, but over the years, the prices dipped and accessing affordable inputs became difficult making many farmers abandon the trade.
It pays my bills
“Many abandoned cotton farming and opted for beans, maize and a bit of sorghum. But I soldiered on,” he recalls the journey dotted with thorns.
Now established, Arimi delivers hundreds of kilos of cottonto the ginnery at Gaitu, Chaaria in Imenti Central Sub County.
“I have since increased the acreage. I have planted cottontwo parcels measuring seven and six and a half acres,” he says.
With one acre producing about 700 kilograms of cottonand a kilo selling at Sh46 Arimi says the deal is worth every effort.
“The ginnery people always come for the harvest so I do not have to deliver it. They also give me the seeds to plant. The good thing with cotton is that even when the rains are low I cannot fail to make a profit,” he says.
He says erratic rains and various diseases have hit his farming before, but over the years he has withered the storm.
The soil already having been tested and found suitable for cotton, Arimi concentrates on getting everything right, season in season out.
“The planting season starts in June. But before that I have to prepare the land by enriching the soil with animal manure, and by planting legumes which actually improves soil fertility,” he says. He also inter crops with beans.
The cover crops also ‘assist’ to combat weeds, he says. Equally important he says, cotton seeds must not be planted too deep as the plant will find it difficult to come up.
“Actually when you plant too deep what comes up is a weak plant which is vulnerable to diseases and weeds,” he explains.
A good depth, is not more than 0.8 inches. The ginnery management offers capacity to him and other farmers who have formed a group, the Meru Cotton Growers Association.
To keep pests and diseases at bay, close monitoring of the crop from formative stage, to flowering and harvesting, is crucial.
“One of the major challenges is the boll weevil which attacks during flowering, feeding on the yet to mature cotton bolls. I have to spray with pesticides which is costly,” he points out.
After ploughing, planting and weeding, he starts to spray the crop in February “to ward off diseases early”.
“The spraying is continuous, because you do not want to be overwhelmed with many diseases. I do it up to the time of harvesting.”
Having relied on the traditional variety since he started, Arimi is now hoping the government can assist him and other farmers get the genetically modified variety -the BT cotton.
“The spraying is costly, as is employing of casuals to take care of the crop. But the BT variety is resistant to almost all pests and diseases. If the government introduces that I will be able to triple my harvest on the same piece of land because the cost of production will go down,” he says.
The venture is rewarding, he says. “I have educated all my children and bought land from cotton proceeds.”
The growers’ association chaired by Charles Muchena wants cotton to be supported just as tea and coffee.
“We are over 2,000 farmers with between two and 20 acres and if we get support from the government many who abandoned the farming will come back and that will resuscitate cotton production and textile industry,” says Mr Muchena.