The Export Promotion Council of Kenya has rolled out a programme to support cotton farming in the country’s arid and semi-arid lands (ASAL) in a move to reduce importation of key raw materials for local textile companies.

The programme, which will involve irrigation to support cultivation of cotton as a cash crop alongside other food crops, targets making local textile companies globally competitive.

Kenya had a thriving textile industriy in the 1970’s and 1980’s but in the early 1990’s the sector started declining because of an influx of cheap textile products, especially the importation of second-hand clothes.

Several initiatives have since been put in place to reverse the trend by both the government and the private sector. The latest effort is the roll out of a new textile project by the Export Promotion Council which aims to resuscitate local textile firms which are facing insolvency for lack of cotton, their primary raw material.

Under the programme, 30,000 hectares in northeaastern Kenya, in the North Rift region and in Nyanza will be put under irrigation for cotton farming.

The export promotiun council’s chairman, Jaswinder Bedi, has urged the government to subsidize electricity costs to make local textile firms globally competitive. Currently Kenya exports textiles to the United States worth some 38 billion shillings (about 375 million US dollars) annually under Washington’s African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) which provides preferential tariff benefits for exports from qualified African countries.