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Farmers return to cotton farming with GMO new variety

By Phares Mutembei | September 30th 2019

A new variety of cotton is luring farmers who had abandoned the crop.

The BT cotton, which is is currently under trial, is pest-resistant and high yielding compared to the traditional variety.

The new variety can produce up to 1,000 kilogrammes per acre, whereas the traditional variety produces between 580 to 800 kilogrammes.

Many farmers in the semi-arid Mwanganthia ward in Central Imenti had abandoned cotton farming for sunflower leading to the collapse of Gaitu ginnery.

The ginnery is slowly getting back to its feet after farmers started delivering small amounts of cotton.

“Gaitu ginnery used to be big. It was receiving cotton from Meru and Tharaka Nithi. But the cost of production due to disease skyrocketed, so we abandoned cotton for sunflower and other crops. We are willing to go back and plant the BT variety,” said Saberia Muriira.

Nkuene Ward rep, Martin Koome, said lack of government support and low prices led to the death of cotton farming, but farmers were willing to return to the crop with the new variety.

“Farmers need support in form of good seeds, input and marketing. Gaitu ginnery used to be big but low prices put farmers off, leading to decreased production and ultimately death of the ginnery. But it is revived now and farmers are ready, but only if assured of good returns,” he said.

Speaking during the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology in Africa (OFAB) Media Awards at a Nairobi hotel, various leaders called on farmers to embrace the new variety.

“Results (of BT trials) will be out very soon. The Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organization is doing a good job,” said Funyula MP Wilberforce Oundo.

According to OFAB chairperson, Margaret Karembu, national trials had seen two seasons of the BT cotton completed.

“Kenya is moving forward with the variety,” said Dr Karembu.

Agriculture ministry PS Harry Kimutai said ginneries across the country were struggling to get raw material.

“It is a real struggle. We must invest in biotechnology,” he said.

Mr Kimutai said in addition to contributing to food security, the livestock sector would be one of the biggest beneficiaries of the revival of the cotton sector in the country.

“When we face drought we are not able to feed our livestock. Cotton seed will be food for our animals. The BT cotton is also expected to boost the economy,” said the PS.

He said the country currently depends on feeds imported from Uganda.

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