Over 10,000 farmers in the country are to benefit from certified cotton seeds for planting as a food security measure before the start of the 2016 long rains season.
National Government confirmed that over 24 metric tonnes of certified seeds have been harvested in Bura irrigation scheme.
The seeds to be distributed at subsidized fee are part of a three year programme initiated last year to bulk cotton seeds with a view to boosting productivity and market share both locally and internationally.
But even as the government tries to bring back and revive the cotton industry, some farmers are still questioning, doubting and wondering whether the cotton industry glory days can ever be revived.
Rosemary Mboya, a mother of 6 children and a small scale farmer from Village Seven in Bura, Tana County recalls the good old days when cotton farming was offering good returns.
She explains that she has grown cotton since 1983 but, owing to pitfalls facing the agriculture sector over years, Mboya has suffered economically as production tumbled in her one and half acres land as well as prices fluctuated.
“I used to harvest about 2,500 kilogrammes of cotton and sell at Sh5 per kg which was a lot of money then. Farm inputs such as fertilizer, herbicide and water were cheap. Today the situation has changed and cost of every farm input has gone up,” said Mrs. Mboya.
She remembers that over 20 years ago, government used to supply them with chemicals as well as spraying the crops using a helicopter. But the arrangement was stopped and thus farmers subjected to endless agonies.
Instead Mboya bemoans that in order for farmers to tame abject poverty , food insecurity, and underdevelopment shifted to alternative crops and for those who are still trying out Cotton, they are contracting diseases after spraying and equally the chemicals used are not adequate thus leading to spread of pests and diseases to plant.
“You have to spray after seven days of planting and again when it has flowered and the pods have started forming. By this time, the crop is normally too tall for some farmers to spray and we risk getting sick. It is our hope that if the researchers can get a variety that is short for farmers to be able to spray with ease, then we can be able to continue planting. Cotton is like a grade cow, if you take care of it, you will get good yields,” she added.
Hesbon Olweny, Fibre crops senior officer technical and advisory department said that they have seven varieties on trial to find out the suitability and adaptability saying that so far they have shown and found that they will get two to three more times yield once harvested.
“We are also carrying out trials on hybrids from India, Zimbabwe and the conventional and local varieties to find out the yield potential and fibre quality.
“For a long time cotton farmers have been getting low quality seeds which has resulted to low productivity, This has made the crop less competitive compared to other fibre crops ,” says Olweny adding that not much research has been done for the last 30 years.
He added, “We are using hybrids from India as we share a lot in common in terms of climatic and rainfall patterns. India is also the strongest country in hybrid and leading in cotton production in the world.”
Joseph Mutisya, another cotton farmer said when Bura Scheme collapsed many farmers stopped growing cotton because the government was not buying the produce.
“We used to sell our cotton in Hola and Malindi but the ginneries closed and we could not sell. I want to urge the government to work especially with cooperative societies to provide inputs to farmers,” he says.
Despite the challenges that the farmers in Bura have been going through, Mutisya and other farmers are a happy lot as the government and private sector has renewed the attention to revive the cotton farming.
Farmers are hopeful cotton farming will resume its past levels and especially increase in prices to more than Sh50 per kilogramme as demand of the crop continue to pick at the global market.
Fibre crops directorate interim Director Anthony Mureithi in an interview confirmed that his institution has partnered with various agricultural bodies -Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), Kenya Seed Company and National Irrigation Board (NIB) for purposes of seed bulking in local irrigation schemes. The national irrigation has provided land while Kenya seed has offered the needed expertise in seed production and KEPHIS regulated the process.
“The certified seeds will be supplied to over 10,000 farmers before the start of the long rains season of 2016 production year. This quantity will be gradually increased during the subsequent seasons through a contractual arrangement with the farmers to bulk the seeds, it is envisaged that all farmers shall plant certified cotton seeds within three years from now,” Mureithi said.
Kenya has a potential of 350,000 hectares suitable for rain-fed crop production and 35,000 hectares of irrigated cotton. This combined potential can produce an estimated 200,000 metric tonnes of seed cotton. Currently about 40,000 farmers are involved in cotton production with an estimated yield of 30,000 bales of lint from around 35,000ha of seed cotton.
`The country has KSA 81M and HART 89M commercial varieties available with a potential cotton yield of 2500 hectares under rain fed cottons and 3500- 400kg/ha under irrigations.
Government in the 2015/16 financial year allocated Sh2 billion through the ministry of Industrialization and Enterprise Development for promotion of local textiles with a view to boosting the local labour market.