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Uhuru’s order on GMO cotton yet to be heeded

By Mugucia Rugene
Dr. Charles Waturu, Principal Investigator of the BT cotton project at its trial farm in Mwea, Kirinyaga County last week.

A presidential order in August last year by President Uhuru Kenyatta that the country starts growing genetically modified (GMO) cotton in order to provide enough raw materials for the textile industry which is part of his Big 4 Agenda under manufacturing sector is yet to be heeded.

Revival of the cotton growing is expected to offer farmers a new source of income especially in lower parts of Kirinyaga County and relatively drier areas across Kenya which were hit by the collapse of textile industry in the 1980s. Demand for cotton fabrics is also high within the Export Processing Zones which manufactures clothes for the American market as well as local industries that have to import fabric from India and China.

Trials for the variety of cotton, popularly known as BT Cotton have been ongoing for several years now at the Kenya Agricultural & Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) centre in Mwea. The planting of the new cotton seeds will start in April next year said Mwea-based Principal and Lead Researcher on the cotton variety Dr. Charles Waturu.

“Successful deployment and adoption of BT-Cotton in Kenya is expected to greatly benefit the country specifically the small holder farmers through realisation of better yields, higher profits from lower pesticide costs, increased cotton output, improved cotton quality and increased export revenues,” said Waturu.

Waturu said the cotton industry in Kenya collapsed in 1985 when the country was producing 70,000 bales per year but this has fallen to 28,000 bales.

“Our textile industry requires about 140,000 bales annually. The deficit is imported from Uganda and Tanzania but that cotton is not high quality like Kenyan cotton. Thus, the need to adopt BT cotton,” he said.

“Once released it will spur economic development by creating jobs in the dormant textile sector and free Kenyans from dependency on second hand clothes,” he added.

He described BT-Cotton as any variety of cotton, genetically enhanced to protect itself against caterpillar pests, specifically the African Bollworm, which is the most damaging pest in cotton.

Local research he added has demonstrated BT-Cotton yields three times more than current conventional varieties and takes between 130- 180 days to mature. He said for the traditional variety, a farmer can only harvest 250 kilograms of the crop while the Btyields stand at 7,000 kilograms per acre.

Waturu who was conducting the media on a tour of the Mwea site demonstrated how the variety produces bolls from the bottom to the top while the traditional one had either a single one or none at all due to attacks by the boll warms.

In June last year, the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries in consultation with the Ministry of Industrialisation, Trade and Cooperatives appointed a 12-member Task Force to oversee commercialization of BT-cotton.

Last December, the Taskforce through Government funding initiated environmental impact assessement on the nine sites identified for National Performance Trials (NPTs) at Bura, Katumani, Mwea, Perkerra, Kampi ya Mawe, Matuga, Kibos, Alupe and Barwessa.

Increased cotton production will spur the manufacturing sector through provision of the much needed raw material for the cotton value chain, including ginners, spinners, textile mills and apparel manufacturers while creating jobs for the youth and women. Overall, he stressed, this will improve rural incomes and reduce poverty while contributing to the realization of the manufacturing sector of the Big Four Agenda as spelt out by President Uhuru Kenyatta.

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