Religious leaders who had opposed the introduction of the biotech (BT) cotton have now supported it following farm visits and assessment of the feared environmental damage by the crop.
The leaders supported its growing after an extensive tour of a farm at Kanjinji village, Kirinyaga County where they found farmers suffering from low production of the non-BT cotton which is heavily invested by pests and costs a lot of money to spray.
One of the suffering farmers, Purity Wangithi told the leaders that she is only able to harvest the low earning crop once a year.
“Other than the low yield, I have to spray about 15 times while the insecticides I use are expensive and the reason my entire crop is pest invested, “she told the leaders.
She said although the payments are on cash on delivery basis, she is only able to deliver an average of 100 kilograms which she is paid Sh58 per kilogram. Later, the leaders visited a farm with BT cotton which they found to have nearly 20 times the yield of the traditional cotton and only requires three sprays per season.
“This variety is early maturing, high yielding, drought and ball worm resistant hence ideal for farmers if the manufacturing agenda as envisaged by the government is to be attained,” said the Lead Researcher for the crop Dr. Charles Waturu.
Waturu who works under the auspices of the Kenya Agricultural Research and Livestock Organizations (KARLO) wondered why the country should continue importing BT cotton for its textile industry while the country has the capacity to produce its own. He said unlike before where farmers recycled their seed, this time through they will be provided with high-quality seeds which will ensure they get maximum production.
“Before a farmer would plant up to 10 seeds because of the poor germinations traits but the new cotton a farmer will only plant a single seed since it is superior to conventional cotton,” Waturu said.
Waturu said they hope to release the new BT cotton to farmers by April next year but subject to the lifting of the ban by the government imposed in 2012.
“We may soon start importing cotton from our neighboring countries like Ethiopia, Uganda, and Tanzania, this is why it is important for Kenya to adopt the BT cotton and be in a position to meet our needs,” he said.
Currently, Waturu said Kenya is only producing 10,000 bales per year as compared to India which produces 35 million bales of cotton per year after adopting the new BT technology.
A senior researcher with KARLO headquarters Dr. Martin Mwirigi said BT technology is the most tested technology hence no reason for fear as its information is widely available. He said crops and foods that have been derived from biotechnology are the most tested in the world.
“Everybody wants to confirm the safety and that is what the World Health Organization and FAO through what we call coded commission established standards and guidelines on how to maximally utilize this technology.”
“So when you go and check, you will find that there are guidelines to look at risk assessments, there are many things that people who are against technology have talked negatively but have never been substantiated.”
“What we are seeing today and the farmer is the opportunity lost over the years and we can’t postpone that kind of aspect as we go along,” he said.
Speaking on behalf of the religious leader, CARITAS Chief Executive Officer Steve Kituku said after the visit, they will report to their superiors on their findings. “By all means, BT cotton is superior to the traditional crop in terms of yields and resistance to pests and drought hence this is the way to go,” he said.
Local cotton is expected to be used in the recently re-opened Rivatex factory in Eldoret and among other garment manufacturing factories.
Food experts, however, oppose implementation of genetically modified cotton saying it is not safe for both human and animals’ consumption.
Bt cotton is developed with a gene called BT toxin. These toxins are strains of the bacterium Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) that contain proteins that are harmful to the bollworm which is the main pest that affects cotton.
Cotton is grown for food as cottonseed oil, seed cake used as an animal feed then as fabric.
According to Seeds of Gold, Lumumba the CEO of Green Earth Trust and founding Secretary of the Kenya Pyrethrum Joint Venture, Livestock feeding on BT cotton animal feed is linked to mad cow (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) infection which is fatal.
Human beings would also be at a very high risk of consuming the meat from slaughtered cows and acquire the disease which is believed to have long term adverse effects such as holes in the brain, severe dysfunction and eventually death.