NAIROBI, Aug. 29 (Xinhua) — Kenyan farmers are banking on biotech cotton in order to revive the once booming sector.
Kenya National Society for Biotech Farming (KNSBF) chairman Daniel Mugo Magondu said farmers have abandoned the cash crop in droves in favor of other crops due to declining returns. Magondu said the decline in production is largely to the uncontrolled pest problem. “The African bollworm has made cotton farming unprofitable because it can result in 100 percent loss of harvest if unchecked,” Magondu told Xinhua in a recent interview. He noted that on average farmers can only achieve a yield of 580 kilogrammes per hectare against a potential of 2500 kg/ha. Government data indicates that in 2016 Kenya produced about 30,000 bales from a high of 70,000 in the 1980s. The Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization and Monsanto are currently developing a genetic modified cotton variety that is resistant to the African bollworm.
The researchers have successfully completed Confined Field Trials and have applied to the authorities to conduct the National Performance Trials for two planting seasons before it can be released to farmers. However, in 2012 Kenya banned the importation and commercialization of GMOs. Magondu said that the ban will have to be lifted before farmers can cultivate the transgenic cotton. The chairman noted that farming of conventional cotton varieties requires spraying of pesticides at least 12 times before harvesting. “This increases the cost of production of the crop to an extent that farmers have decided to abandon the crop,” he added. However, the GMO cotton will only require three applications of pesticides to control pests. Magondu noted that the commercialization of genetically engineered cotton will help to reverse the dwindling fortunes of the once vibrant crop that was a mainstay in the arid regions of the country. He noted that out of the 22 ginneries in the country only five are operational due to lack of cotton for processing.