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Cotton farmers upbeat as State injects Sh66m to revive ginnery

NEWS
By Nathan Ochunge | October 8th 2021
Aidah Nasimiyu in her BT cotton farm in Apegei village, Busia County. [Mumo Munuve, Standard]

Cotton farmers in Busia County are upbeat after the government injected Sh66 million into the revival of the Mulwanda cotton mill, which collapsed 20 years ago.

Construction works are ongoing at the ginnery, which is almost 90 per cent complete.

An earlier inspection tour of the mill by Cooperatives Principal Secretary Ali Noor Ismail found the ginnery viable.

"The PS asked farmers to write a proposal for revival of the mill after his inspection tour," said Vincent Egesa, Mulwanda Cotton Ginnery Board chairman.

Egesa said they wrote a proposal requesting for Sh30 million, and forwarded it to the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Co-operatives.

"It was approved after one month, and allocation factored in the 2019/20 financial year," he said.

Egesa said the money was used to procure new cotton ginning machines, which have been installed.

“The first phase that cost Sh30 million is complete. The second phase is ongoing. We got another grant of Sh36 million from the national government. The procurement process is ongoing,” said Egesa.

The government's decision to revive the ginnery has excited local farmers, who are already taking up cotton farming, which they abandoned decades ago.

Vincent Egesa operates a ginning machine in Mulwanda Ginnery in Busia County. The phase one establishment of the facility cost sh30m with phase two set to cost sh36m which will be a sigh to BT Cotton farmers in the county. [Mumo Munuve, Standard]

Francis Opailo, a farmer from Apegei village in Teso, said they are determined to cultivate cotton as a cash crop.

Like other farmers in the area, the 58-year-old sprays his cotton crop at least three times in four months to eliminate pests and diseases.

On the day of this visit, a group of men were busy spraying the expansive farm despite the drizzling rain.

“We must spray our cotton farms once every month to kill pests and suppress diseases," said Opailo.

"Farmers used to make huge losses that saw us stop growing cotton, leading to the collapse of our ginneries about 20 years ago. Farmers did not have the knowledge and necessary skills required to grow cotton," he said.

According to Opailo, Busia County has good soils for growing high-quality cotton.

"In 2019, the government encouraged us to revert to cotton farming after the introduction of BT cotton, a new, early maturing variety that guarantees high yields, is resistant to drought and some diseases and pests,” Opailo said.

BT cotton is a genetically modified organism (GMO) or genetically modified pest-resistant cotton variety, which produces an insecticide to combat bollworm.

According to Opailo, BT cotton gave high yields during the first phase of its pilot programme in 2019. "The yields were better compared to what KSL cotton variety would give us."

Opailo planted the BT cotton on an eight-acre demo plot and harvested 94 kilos of cottonseed.

This year, his five-acre parcel is under cotton. "I expect a bumper harvest in December," he said.

The farmers argue that BT cotton is different from the old varieties that yielded 15-20 bolls.

"Under good management, BT cotton can yield between 110 and 140 bolls per tree within four months, unlike the old variety that would take six months to mature,” said Opailo.

He said one acre under BT cotton should give a farmer 400-600 kilos of cottonseed.

"I expect to harvest between 2,250 and 2,500 kilos, with estimated returns of Sh120,000 because one kilo goes for Sh50," he said.

Vincent Egesa (left) and Josephat Naderia hold cotton wool in Mulwanda Ginnery in Busia County. The phase one establishment of the facility cost sh30m with phase two set to cost sh36m which will be a sigh to BT Cotton farmers in the county. [Mumo Munuve, Standard]

Ready market

Silas Omuyokiti, another BT cotton farmer, said the availability of a ready market for their produce had encouraged them to work harder.

"We sell our cotton right at the farm, and are paid instantly based on the weight of the produce," he said.

Omuyokiti said in the past, payments were not made promptly despite farmers making deliveries to local mills.

“Delayed payments saw farmers incur huge losses, and some were rendered insolvent," he said.

Cotton is a cash crop that would guarantee a farmer instant wealth. It can be planted three times in a year because it takes a shorter period to mature compared to sugarcane that takes 18 to 24 months in farms."

The 59-year-old farmer believes BT cotton could be a godsend. "It will go a long way in transforming the region’s economy because many farmers are embracing the crop."

Omuyokiti said part of the reasons cotton farming failed in the 1980s in Busia was poor prices.

"Cost of production was high, but returns were low. That discouraged many farmers who abandoned cotton for other crops, including sugarcane, beans, cassava, sorghum, finger millet and maize," he said.

Omukoyiti grows cotton on his 10-acre parcel in Teso South Sub-county.

Nelly Nasimiyu, who hails from Funyula Sub-county, plants the hybrid variety of cotton and says it exhibits the same characteristics as BT cotton.

“There is no big difference between the hybrid variety and BT cotton because both take the same period to mature. The yields range between 90 and 130 bolls per stem,” she said.

Egesa said the revived mill is being served by seven co-operative societies. They include Matayos, Busia, Olima, Bukiri, Bwiri, Namasali and old Bunyala, which have at least 20,000 farmers.

He said they will be required to bring more farmers on board for the project to be sustainable. "We need at least 90,000 farmers."

More cotton could come from Homa Bay County, which is willing to supply at least 800 tonnes of bales annually, according to Egesa.

“Our plea is to the government to revive and make the other collapsed ginneries manufacture cooking oil from cottonseeds, animal feeds and soap, and let Mulwanda specialise on textile products,” he said.

Earlier, Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya said Kenya had joined Sudan, Malawi, South Africa, Ethiopia, Algeria and Eswatini, where BT cotton is grown in plenty.

In 2018, Kenya produced 10,000 tonnes of bales against the demand of 140,000 tonnes, forcing the country to import extra raw material from Uganda and Ethiopia.

Data from the Agriculture and Food Authority (AFA) shows that cotton production in Kenya increased by 16 per cent from 3,015 tonnes in 2019 to 3,495 tonnes last year, despite a 45 per cent drop in the area under crop.

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