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State bets on BT Cotton to boost production

By Fredrick Obura | February 1st 2021
Anthony Muriithi, the Agriculture and Food Authority acting Director General.

NAIROBI, KENYA: Growing of genetically modified Bt cotton in the country is expected to increase production by a factor of 10 in the initial years and possibly set the near-dead agricultural subsector on a firm footing to recovery.

The Ministry of Agriculture started the distribution of Bt (Bacillus Thuringiensis) cotton seeds to farmers as it embarks on revamping the sector, which was a wild success in the 1970s and 80s but has since sunk and has for years been on its deathbed. The attempts to revamp the industry came after the Cabinet approved its commercial adoption after the field trials posted positive results.

Anthony Muriithi acting chief executive of Agriculture and Food Authority (Afa) said the renewed push by the government, which is seen in the seed distribution as well as reforms on institutions is expected to initially shore up production of cotton at the firm level. He added that there are efforts to scale up capacity through the value chain, aiming at increasing export earnings from cotton.

“The BT and conventional cotton seeds have been distributed to the farmers. It is envisaged that annual production will grow from the current 20,000 bales to over 200,000 bales by 2022,” he said.

He added, "The cotton value chain experienced a decline, partly owing to the importation of second-hand clothes (mitumba) as well as farmers abandoning the crop on the account of low earnings and market access. The prospects have however been looking up as the Government steps up the revitalization programme whose objective is to enhance production to meet the demand for the local and international market. The cotton value chain currently enjoys the benefits of the AGOA arrangement which grants access to the US market for our apparel industry. At the heart of the cotton revitalisation programme is the commercial production of Bt Cotton which was recently commissioned."

Bt Cotton is genetically engineered to be resistant to certain pests and also yields up to three times more than the conventional varieties and is expected to play a key role in the revival of the sector.

Other than the distribution of the Bt cotton seeds, the Ministry is also eyeing institutional reforms. It has recently drafted a set of bills, which create several authorities that oversee specific value chains. in the case of cotton, the subsector will be regulated by the Fibre Crops Development Authority proposed in the Fibre Crops Bill 2021, which will also regulate sisal.

A recent study by Bayer East Africa shows the country has the potential of producing upwards 260 000 bales of cotton, which would be adequate to meet local demand while exporting the balance.

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