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Scientists say growing genetically-modified crop will revive local textile sector

By Munene Kamau | October 26th 2018
Charles Waturu (right), the Principal Researcher for the Bt -cotton inspecting the progress for the National Field Trials at Mathangauta farm

After nearly two decades of waiting, farmers will from April start growing Bt cotton commercially.

Once the project takes off, it is expected to spur economic development by creating jobs in the dormant textile sector and free Kenyans from dependency on second-hand clothes (mitumba), according to Charles Waturu, principal researcher of the crop variety.

Dr Waturu described Bt cotton as any variety of cotton genetically enhanced through incorporation of a gene derived from a soil-occurring bacteria to protect itself against caterpillar pests, specifically the African bollworm, which is the most damaging pest in cotton.

The crop scientist said research for Bt cotton was conceptualised in 2001 to address the need to manage the African bollworm.

He said local research had demonstrated that Bt cotton yields almost three times more than current conventional varieties and takes between 130 and 180 days to mature.

Field trials

He said for the traditional variety, farmers can harvest only 2,500 kilos of the crop while Bt yields stand at 7,000 kilos per acre.

In February 2001, the then Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (Kari), through its Institutional Bio-safety Committee (IBC), applied to introduce Bt cotton.

Confined Field Trials (CFTs) started in 2004 in Mwea and were successfully concluded in 2010.

Waturu said the commercialisation process started in 2011, culminating in a conditional approval from the National Bio-safety Authority in 2016 to Monsanto - the company that owns the Bt technology.

“The approval required that the National Environment Management Authority (Nema) gives a clearance certificate upon conducting an environmental impact assessment,” he said yesterday while on a tour in Mwea.

The researcher demonstrated how the variety produces bolls from the bottom to the top while the traditional crop had either a single boll or none at all due to bollworm attacks.

In June last year, the Ministry of Agriculture in consultation with the Ministry of Trade appointed a 12-member task force to oversee the commercialisation of Bt cotton.

Last December, the task force, through Government funding, initiated the environmental impact assessment on nine sites identified for trials in Bura, Katumani, Mwea, Perkerra, Kampi ya Mawe, Matuga, Kibos, Alupe and Barwessa.

In June, Nema gave a clearance certificate, marking the start of the first-season trials in seven sites - Bura, Mwea, Perkerra, Matuga, Kibos, Alupe and Barwessa.

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