By Daniel Magondu
Dear Your Excellency President Uhuru Kenyatta, President of the Republic of Kenya,
The Society for Biotech Farmers of Kenya (SOBIFAK) wishes to convey its most sincere gratitude to you and your Cabinet for your bold step to approve commercial farming of Bt cotton. SOBIFAK is a registered national farmers’ association that advocates for incorporation of new biotechnology tools – including genetically modified (GM) crops – into Kenya’s agricultural system with the aim of increasing production and improving farmers’ livelihoods.
Your Excellency, the approval is a monumental decision that signals the beginning of an end to cotton farmers’ misery in the face of pest infestations. These woes have had a ripple effect on cotton prices and national priorities on cotton farming.
For cotton farmers, adverse effects of pests on farming are so loud that the crop’s production has nosedived significantly owing to the emergence of the African bollworm that has wreaked havoc in what was once considered Kenya’s white gold.
Scientists have attributed this massive pest destruction to conventional cotton’s susceptibility. The infestation by the bollworm has continually ravaged conventional varieties causing devastating losses to farmers and rendering them poor and desolate. According to scientists, the vicious African bollworm can cause a damage of up to 90% of bolls when untreated.
To help contain the bollworm, farmers have to apply pesticides on the crop over twelve times in a season. Prices of the pesticides have skyrocketed because of high demand. This has made the cost of production to be high compared to the minimum farm gate price offered to the farmer. Most farmers cannot afford them and thus the high production cost has compromised farm productivity. On average, a farmer harvests about 500 to 600kgs of conventional seed cotton per hectare against a possible 2500kgs with Bt cotton!
In the face of these challenges, many farmers abandoned cotton farming. Consequently, many ginneries collapsed due to lack of raw materials for processing, and the remaining ones are operating at minimum capacity. The dismal production and closure of ginneries have slumped our once lucrative textiles and apparel industry.
Your Excellency, in spite of these adversities, most farmers in Western, Eastern, Coastal and Central regions still hang on the hope of accessing better cotton varieties.
Mr. President, Bt cotton commercialisation could not have come at a better time for the country and especially for smallholder farmers. Bt cotton has in-built resistance to the African bollworm. Growing this cotton will significantly reduce the use of pesticides, from 12 to about three sprays per season, thus significantly reducing the cost of production. Additionally, more time will be saved in the reduced number of pest control applications thus farmers will get sufficient time for other income generating activities in the farm.
The improved crop will also increase farmers’ production by about five folds – from approximately 500kg/ha to 2,500kg/ha – remarkably improving farmers’ livelihoods through increased income. This is a new dawn for our farmers. The approval, Your Excellency, is the most glorious gift you have given cotton farmers. Big thank you Mr. President.
And this does not stop at the farmers’ level. Adoption of Bt cotton will see the country realise its production potential of approximately 368,000 bales of lint annually. This will be key in revamping our cotton sub-sector. The country currently produces a meagre 25,000 bales which is only 10% of its potential. Our textile mills like RIVATEX will also stop importing raw cotton from neighbouring countries and instead buy from local farmers.
Generally, our ginneries will re-start operations and textile cottage industries will start mushrooming in our villages. As a result, new home-made clothes will be sold at affordable prices marking an end to the second-hand clothes (mitumba), in the spirit of Buy Kenya – Build Kenya. Additionally, cotton seed cake for our dairy cows will be available and sold at affordable prices to our dairy farmers leading to increased milk production.
Most importantly, the livelihood of many Kenyans will be changed, and severe cases of poverty in cotton-growing regions eliminated.
Your Excellency, with Bt cotton the country will further produce sufficient textile and apparel products for export to the world’s richest economies through AGOA. A flourishing cotton industry will directly benefit our farmers through improved market access and better prices for their produce. With the promising prospects from Bt cotton, most youth will be attracted back to farming since they will see it as a profitable venture. All this will spiral towards an improved national economy through agriculture.
Once more, thank you very much Your Excellency and the Cabinet. God bless you, God bless Kenya.
Daniel Magondu is a veteran cotton and maize farmer in Kenya. He is also the Chairman of the Society for Biotech Farming of Kenya (SOBIFAK). You can reach him on firstname.lastname@example.org