Varsity researchers develop portable cotton ginnery

Harvested cotton. [Christopher Kipsang, Standard]

Kirinyaga University researchers have developed a portable multipurpose cotton ginning machine that is set to improve farmers earnings.

Lead researcher Dr Dennis Muchangi said the micro-ginnery has an oil extractor component that will separate seeds from lint - ensuring farmers get value for money for their cotton. 

The project is being tested in two counties, Kirinyaga (Murinduko) and Embu (Kanyuambora) before being extended to other cotton-growing areas of Kisumu, Busia, Lamu, Makueni and Meru. 

"We are at the pilot stage in Kirinyaga and Embu counties. The portable ginning machine will be used by cotton farmers right on their farms," Dr Muchangi said.

The project was initially funded by the State to develop a prototype through the National Research Fund (NRF) and the  French government through the FID.

The gin being tested by the farmers can be powered by petrol and electricity. "The prototype gin is at the pilot stage. We want to have a machine that uses solar or one that a farmer can use manpower to gin the cotton," Dr Muchangi said. 

With the machine, the farmer can make more money from the raw cotton that goes for between Sh25 and Sh50 depending on the grade. However, when the cotton is ginned on the farm, the farmer can sell it for between Sh200 and Sh250 per kilogramme.

Cotton seeds can also be sold at Sh40.

Daniel Magondu, a small-scale cotton farmer and chairperson of the Society for Biotechnology Farming of Kenya said initially, farmers from the region used to plant conventional cotton which was susceptible to pests.

"The difference between traditional cotton farming and BT cotton is how farmers manage pests where the farmer applies cotton control three times instead of 12 times," he said. 

"It's for the first time that as a farmer I have seen a mini-gin that can be used on the farm. A farmer can pick his or her cotton, put it and continue ginning unlike when we used to take our cotton to the buying centre," Magondu said.

After ginning, a farmer can send lint to cotton millers and extract oil from cotton seeds and the cotton cake can be fed to the animals. 

Dr Agnes Mutiso, a researcher, said the micro-ginnery will remove the middleman from the cotton farming value chain. The project is also expected to provide training to farmers, especially women to empower them to add value to cotton. 

Dr Grace Kiiru who is also part of the research team said they are collaborating with ginneries like Rivatex, and Thika Textile, who are ready to buy lint from farmers.

"The project is not aimed at killing the existing ginneries but to ensure the farmer gets money from their hard work," Dr Kiiru said. 

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