Farmers divided on cotton farming

Farmers in Meru County have expressed varied opinions on the idea of reviving cotton farming presented by the County department of agriculture.

While attending a farmers’ empowerment meeting in Gaitu, Imenti Central sub-county, the farmers felt cotton farming was a very demanding venture and it took too long before a farmer started enjoying the benefits.

Presenting the idea of reviving cotton farming in the region on behalf of the County Executive, Prof. Karwitha Kiugu, an agricultural officer who requested not to be named said the county government had identified cotton as the most appropriate crop to close up the gap of the region having very few cash crops.

The officer said Meru County was a renowned cotton production zone until in the 1980s when farmers slowly started abandoning it to take the option of fast growing to maturity crops in the horticultural farming.

He said the county government had been identified among others to have cotton produced in large quantities towards enough supplying raw material to revive closed down ginneries and textile factories in the country.

We need to grab the opportunity of participating and contributing towards realizing the Big Four agenda set by President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Jubilee government before the end of his term in office, the officer said.

Attesting to the fact that the larger Meru region was known from far and wide for the production of cotton, a former cotton farmer Elias Riungu said he managed to have his children go through school to the university level with the income he earned from cotton production in the seventies and late eighties.

Riungu said then, the crop was viable and a reliable source of income for the farmers until some greedy characters messed up with the management and marketing of cotton locally and internationally.

He noted that the idea of reviving cotton farming especially in the lower areas of the county, where black cotton favourable for the crop was found, was very noble but he observed that the current generation of farmers lacked the patience that cotton farming demands.

We stuck to cotton farming in our days because there was not a more viable cash crop to help us earn money to take care of family provisions, including paying school fees, Riungu said.

The former farmer said time had moved so fast and with the availability options on how one could earn a living and be able to take care of basic needs, farmers found it very difficult to accommodate cotton farming.

Riungu pointed out that during their time when cotton farming was the order of the day, the population was small hence a farmer had many acres on which to plant the cash crop, without having to interfere with farms to be put on food crops.

He observed that with continued population growth, farms had been divided into very small portions and planting cotton on such pieces of land would be uneconomical since proceeds from the harvest would be far from being cost-effective.

The farmer, in his late nineties, said cotton farming was only good to people of high degree of patience ready to stay on the farm for a calendar year without harvesting, but with constant care of the crop including regular spraying, where a farmer has to spend a lot of money on farm inputs.

Riungu urged the county government to take time and evaluate the benefits the farmer would get against what they were currently engaging in before embarking on a sensitization program on cotton farming in the region.

He challenged the county government to first identify sustainable mitigation measures against greedy brokers, whom he blamed for the great suffering farmers were being subjected to as they strived to get their farm produce to the market.

The farmer reiterated that farmers would remain reluctant to embrace some good and viable ideas raised by experts towards improving farming standards in the region, until there was clear legislation on the channels open for farmers to present their grievances against the county government.

Many farmers in this area are still holding bags of green grams whose seeds were distributed by county government representatives before the March-May rains, with the hope that the end product would be bought at Sh80 per kilo at the farm level to reduce transportation cost to the market, Riungu said.

Source: Kenya News Agency