Kenya’s total cotton production decreased by 59% in 2021. This drop increased the proportion of farmers who needed to access Bt seeds imported from India. Given the current situation, the East African country is hunting for ways to get their cotton production graphs moving in the right direction.
Bt crops are transgenic crops that are genetically engineered from the DNA of the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis.
In 2021, the country produced 2 527 bales of lint, which equates to approximately KES82 million. There was a decline from the 6 196 bales produced in 2020, according to Kenya’s Fibre Directorate.
“Getting seeds was a major challenge during the period under review especially due to the fact that the Bt seeds have to be imported into the country from India, and undergo germination test before distribution. In most cases, the seeds reached the farmers late and they were also inadequate for all who had prepared their land,” said the directorate in a report on the crop.
Bt seeds, however, are not widely accessible to cotton farmers, and a combination of dry spells and a lack of funding contributed to the industry’s declining output. The seeds were first approved for commercial use by the Kenyan government in 2019, and became the one of the first genetically modified crops to be grown in the country following years of extensive research.
Following the approval, the ministry of agriculture distributed a ton of Bt cotton seeds for a pilot trial, across 10 000 hectares of farmland. Thereafter, the use of the genetically modified crop became more common, as it produces a higher yield and is fairly pest resistant.
Now, the Kenyan government is hoping that Bt seeds will revive its struggling textile industry, which relies heavily on high cotton yields to thrive.
Recently, the Rivatex Textile Company – located in Kenya’s Eldoret county – announced it is facing a cotton shortage, which is limiting its production. The company is one of East Africa’s biggest textile manufacturers, and is urging farmers to plant more cotton.
It aims to have cotton production increase from 250 000 acres across 24 counties in the country, up from its current 89 000 acres. The company also received a government payment of KES6 million to support expansion plans despite its recent struggles.
Rivatex includes a department that specialises in company-farmer liaising, and it is urging farmers to increase cotton production with the promise of purchasing cotton directly from them.
At its lowest, the price of cotton dropped to KES20 per kilogram, but has since increased to KES52 per kilogram when purchasing at farm gates. Cotton that has been ginned – meaning a machine has been used to separate the cotton from its seeds – goes for approximately KES170 per kilogram.
Rivatex provides employment to more than 150 000 employees in the East African textile sector.