The country’s textile industry is headed for a big boost after Genetically Modified cotton planting began locally.
A journey of more than 15 years of developing the BT cotton reached the last stage yesterday, as the National Performance Trials for the crop began in Kisumu County.
Horticultural Research Institute Director Charles Waturu presided over the first-ever open field planting of four varieties of seeds, ahead of the launch of commercial planting later in the year.
The research was done in collaboration with the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (Kalro).
According to Dr Waturu, the planting came barely a year since the National Environment Management Authority approved the environment assessment of the crop for commercial use.
The commercial planting of the crop will be open to farmers in the next planting season, with western Kenya set to pioneer it.
Waturu yesterday said an Indian seed company was set to deliver seeds enough for more than 260 hectares of field, which are targeted by the Government for the first phase of planting.
Kenya developed a policy on Genetically Modified Organism in 2006. This was followed by the passing of the Biosafety law, which allowed for research on the same in 2009.
Comprehensive regulations to provide guidance on implementation of the law followed in 2011. After successful confined field trials of BT cotton planting by the researchers in 2010, the focus turned to the rush to acquire open release certification of the crop.
Waturu yesterday termed the planting of the seeds as a breakthrough in the textile industry, especially at a time when the Government has listed industrialisation among its Big Four development agenda.
“Kenya produces 20,000 bales of cotton every year against a demand of 140,000, meaning we have to import the deficit. But with BT cotton, which is high yielding and has high quality, we can produce up to 260,000 bales,” he said.
A bale of cotton weighs 184kg.
BT cotton is a genetically modified cotton seed developed with a gene called BT toxic. These are strains of the bacterium bacillus thuringiensis. The toxin contains proteins that are harmful to bollworms, which have been proved to be the main pest affecting cotton balls.
“This toxic is not harmful to human beings and its traces have been used to develop numerous pesticides used to control pests in cabbages and sukuma wiki,” said Waturu.
He said once the trials were complete in the next six months, the Ministry of Agriculture would launch a seed distribution exercise targeting farmers, especially those from traditional cotton growing areas in western and eastern parts of the country.
“We project that if well managed, farmers will be able to get up to five tonnes of cotton from one acre. This is a big boost and we want to move fast to ensure that we regain our cotton growing glory,” he said.
According to Waturu, pests and diseases were the main reasons why cotton growing in the country was abandoned, and BT cotton is expected to be the solution.
He said the new crop would be viable for irrigation and take up to six months to mature.
Waturu however, noted that the crop would not be viable for inter-cropping, especially with maize, since the latter had been established to be a host for the dreaded pest.
He said the recruitment of farmers was set to begin soon in collaboration with the host county governments, especially since agriculture was a devolved function.
“There are also elaborate plans by the national government to revamp dead ginneries and build new ones so that once harvesting begins, there will be no issue with the markets,” he added.