Stakeholders in the cotton sub-sector in Kenya are eagerly awaiting the introduction of Bt cotton in Kenya. This was the mood at a recent workshop to prepare officials from the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries for the adoption of the GM crop. The workshop, also attended by representatives from Ministry of Industry, Trade and Cooperatives, was held in Embu, north-east of Nairobi and aimed at developing skills and capacity for effective management of the GM crop.

Dr. Charles Waturu, the principal researcher for Bt cotton in Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO), informed participants that the trials for Bollgard I® and Bollgard II® cotton were successfully completed about 10 years ago. According to Dr. Waturu, the trials showed that transgenic cotton effectively controlled populations of African bollworm and had no significant effect on non-target pest species. “Growing Bt cotton will significantly reduce the amount of insecticides used by Kenyan farmers, from 12 to about three sprays per season, thus reducing cost of production and increasing income from cotton farming,” he pointed out.

Anthony Muriithi, head of Fibre Crops Directorate, agreed that Bt cotton is the way to go for Kenya. He acknowledged that introduction of the GM crop will be a remedy to poor cotton yields recorded currently. “The country currently realises approximately 25,000 bales which is only 10.4% of her potential and once Bt cotton is commercialized, we will see an upsurge in cotton production,” he noted.

Some participants were however concerned that the country’s political dynamics could derail efforts to expedite adoption of the crop. “Political leaders must show political goodwill and lead the course towards adoption and commercialization of Bt cotton,” a participant said.

Dr. Richard Oduor, a senior lecturer at the Department of Biochemistry and Biotechnology at Kenyatta University, expressed the need for participants to be cognizant of the processes involved in developing Bt cotton. “Having knowledge on the processes will enable you appreciate the effectiveness of Bt technology in controlling bollworms,” Dr. Oduor told participants.

ISAAA AfriCenter’s Senior Programmes Officer Dr. Faith Nguthi trained stakeholders on effective science communication to promote understanding of the Bt cotton technology. Dr. Nguthi emphasized that in order to enhance trust and facilitate uptake of GM technology, there is need to develop messages that are credible.

The workshop was organised by Fibre Crops Directorate in collaboration with the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) and the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB) Kenya chapter.