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Experts call for quick adoption of Bt cotton

Biotechnology experts are rooting for adoption of science to boost cotton production to ensure there is enough material to support the textile industry.

The aim of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Big Four agenda is to promote the manufacturing sector through production and commercialisation of bt cotton which offers an opportunity for revival of the textile industry.

This will in turn promote the economy through job creation by 2022.

“If we adopt modern technology, the country, through Rivatex, will stop importing cotton from Uganda. Hybrid cotton will increase production threefold as compared to traditional cotton, ” says Kenya’s principal Bt Cotton researcher, Charles Waturu.

According to Waturu who is the director of the Thika based Kenya Agricultural Livestock Research Organization, commercialisation of Bt Cotton will boost revenue in the textile industry from Sh3.5 billion to Sh2 trillion.

He says revitalisation of the sector with the help of hybrid cotton, that the government has already pledged to support, will also help in creation of at least 500,000 cotton production and 100,000 textile production jobs by 2022.

“But the dream by the head of state will be just a dream if we do not shift from traditional farming methods to revive the sector. Bt cotton remains under confined field trials because of poor politics,” said Waturu at the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology in Africa (OFAB)-Kenya Chapter.

The OFAB science cafe which brings together research scientists working on agri-biotech projects updates on the country’s status of biotech research.

According to Fiber Crops Directorate interim senior officer Dickson Kibata, the state of cotton production in the country remains pathetic yet it stands a chance to revolutionise the manufacturing sector, saying at present only 40,000 farmers are involved in cotton production instead of the projected 200,000.

Kibata says the sector is characterized by a low lint production of 4,000 tonnes lint  against market demand of more than 25,000tonnes.

“Adoption of technology to produce Bt cotton is one of the solution that can help the continent produce sufficient cotton and also revive the collapsed sector.”

“It’s unfortunate we lose much needed foreign exchange to neighbouring countries through importation from Uganda and Tanzania. The Export Processing Zone has to import cotton from India- a leader in bt cotton production.”

According to International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA), AfriCenter centre director, Dr Margret Karembu, Burkina Faso’s farmers reap socio-economic benefits from increased yield per unit by growing bt cotton pointing to significant reduction exposure to pesticides, reduced spraying, reduced workload and reduced use of water.

“Environmentally, there are less active chemical ingredients released into water bodies. Less spraying means beneficial insects survive. Bt cotton balls up earlier than conventional ones,” said Dr Karembu, adding: “Higher yields mean higher incomes, greater socio-economic gains and increased opportunities in the cotton value chain. Extensive research has been carried out on toxicology by the directorate of research.”

Cotton production has been on the decline in the past two decades mostly due to neglect of farmers and collapse of cotton mills following massive importation of second hand clothes. In the 1980s cotton production was in the range of 70,000 bales annually.

However, President Uhuru Kenyatta’s manufacturing agenda will give new impetus for its revival. A recent study by the World Bank entitled: “Kenya Value Chains” indicates while the country has the capacity to produce 368,000 bales annually, it only produces less than 30,000 bales.

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