Cotton in Kenya
Cotton Farming in Kenya: Cotton in Kenya is grown in Nyanza, Western, Coast, Central, Eastern, and Rift Valley regions, largely under rain-fed conditions. Cotton in Kenya is mainly grown by small-scale farmers in marginal and arid areas on small land holdings averaging about a hectare. It is estimated that Kenya has 200,000 small-scale farmers.
In the 1970s Kenya was a major East African producer of seed cotton for each native consumption and export. Today the potential of the cotton industry in Kenya remains high, however poor production methodologies, due to the lack of appropriate technical skills in agronomic practices and deficient marketing systems for cotton and other crops, resulting in a failure to meet smallholder’s expectations of cotton quality and pricing.
Cotton Farming in Kenya – The Cotton Industry
Under the Kenya Government’s policy for addressing poverty ‘Kenya Vision 2030’, cotton has been identified as a key sub-sector with the potential to benefit 8 million people in the drier areas of the country. The Cotton Development Authority (CODA) has been set-up to coordinate rehabilitation of the cotton sector. Garments manufacturers produce various products for the local market and export. Close to 46% of them produce men’s wear and the other robes, pants, Kaunda, suits, knitted and woven garments.
Investment is growing and ginning cotton, spinning, weaving and production of attire and different product are assured of native, regional and international markets. Kenya has adopted genetically modified BT cotton seeds to increase productivity. BT seeds have gained acceptance because they do not require pesticides spraying and the yield is double that of traditional seeds. The cotton development authority and KARI control the distribution of cotton seeds. Kenya has the potential to produce 260, 000 bales of cotton if the area under cultivation was increased. The bulk of the crop is grown in western Kenya where, before setbacks in the industry, textile industries such as Kisumu Cotton Mills and Rift Valley Textiles were household names.
Cotton Farming in Kenya – Production Improvement
Poor yields from farmer cotton in Africa are a long-standing drawback that has not been greatly altered by unharnessing of latest varieties or by alternative recommendations created on the
basis of research findings. There appear to be a number of problems in translating the outputs from research into the farmers’ fields; Therefore, the following should be done.
Ensure extension messages on ICM reach the farmer
The Ministry of Agriculture and the Cotton Development Authority (CODA) have recognized the need and value of promoting Integrated Crop Management (ICM) such as through demonstration plots but have so far lacked the capacity to implement such a strategy. One constraint has been appropriate and up-to-date technical packages for crop and pest management of cotton. In addition, the national agricultural research institutions are not always fully in touch with the requirements of the ginning sector, and poor extension services mean they have difficulty reaching large numbers of farmers with technical messages. Much more should be done to foster greater public/private partnerships to address the needs of all stakeholders in the value chain.
Translating outputs from research to the farmers field
Some of the shortcomings of moving research findings to the farmer can be addressed by expanding the on-farm demonstrations (OFD) programs through farmer participatory training and promoting scientifically-based ICM systems that are appropriate and acceptable to cotton smallholders and which promote linkages among all important stakeholders both private and public. There has to be a linkage between the generation of new techniques, methodologies and their communication to the farmers.
Importance of a consistent ICM package
Where there is a degree of vertical integration of the commodity chain e.g. ginning companies providing agricultural inputs to cotton farmers or if a formalized system of ‘contract farming’ is operating, there is an opportunity to also provide improved technical services. Making inputs available to farmers has proved insufficient on its own to significantly improve yields. The missing component is a consistent ICM package that recognizes the farmers’ constraints, backed by technical training support linked to a demonstration program.
The need for technical and institutional innovations
Technical and institutional innovations in the cotton sector require both funding and private incentives. This is especially true in the development and multiplication of new varieties, improved pest management, and updated grading systems. Achieving a mix of public and private participation by engaging all actors in a dialogue to build institutional and policy environments that encourage technological renewal, will be an additional requirement.
Cotton Farming in Kenya – Domestic Demand
Kenya imports second-hand clothing or mitumba worth US$ 137 million (2013), which is a big deterrent for the domestic market. However, the aspirations and disposable incomes of the Kenyan population are growing rapidly. Domestic consumption of various consumer products, including textiles and apparel, has grown in recent years and can be linked to overall economic growth
and an increase in consumer spending power. With a GDP per capita of US$ 1,358 (2014), a population base of 44.86 million and good economic growth prospects, Kenya is soon going to
be an attractive market for garment producers.
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Cotton Farming in Kenya – Investment Opportunities
Garment manufacturing in Kenya remains the most attractive investment option for global investors due to the duty advantage under AGOA and other benefits as explained earlier. AGOA’s extension for the next 10 years has removed the cloud of uncertainty hovering over the future of this sector in Kenya. Import duty in the US market for synthetic garments is much higher than that for cotton garments(32% vis-à-vis 10%). In other words, Kenya-made synthetic garments will be 32% cheaper than garments made in Asian countries that do not have a duty advantage. For cotton garments, this duty advantage will only be 10%. Hence, Kenya is a more beneficial location to produce synthetic garments (as opposed to cotton garments) and export to US markets.
Textile (yarns and fabrics) manufacturing
Textile manufacturing set-up, including yarn manufacturing, weaving, knitting, and fabric finishing, is not well developed in Kenya. The existing units have old technology machines that are not able to cater to the demand of export-oriented garment businesses. Hence, they are forced to operate at reduced utilization and cater mainly to low-end domestic and regional markets. New investments in these sub-segments with latest technology machines that are cost and quality competitive can get access to a ready market not only in Kenya but also in other neighboring countries where apparel exports are growing.
Kenya can specifically focus on building a strong export-oriented synthetic manufacturing value chain for catering to regional exporters, as there is hardly any such set-up available in the region.
Local production of garment accessories (buttons, zippers, labels and tags, etc.) is quite restricted when it comes to quality and variety. Therefore, these accessories are imported by the majority of garment manufacturers. As the industry in the country and region grows, there will be a ready market available for such items. An investment targeted at manufacturing and import substitution of such items can be a good proposition.
With the growing production of textile and apparel factories, opportunities will arise to provide associated services like buying houses, testing houses, technical consultancy, brokerage Services,export marketing, and training.
Cotton Farming in Kenya – Constraints to Production
Risk aversion by the private sector and farmers
Prior to structural adjustment, production-to-market chains for agricultural commodities were integrated under the control of state or parastatal organizations that provided subsidized farm inputs, often provided advisory services, sometimes even provided credit as well as purchasing the commodity from farmers. However, under the structural adjustment reforms, government support for input and output markets has been withdrawn in the expectation that private sector traders would fill the niche and develop these markets. In practice, the private sector has proved to be highly risk-averse to investing in the cotton-growing enterprises linked to smallholder agriculture. As a result, the farmer will reserve minimal resources in terms of fertilizer application and crop
protection for cotton in preference to food crops.
There are also policy issues which impact on the already complex situation, such as price-setting for seed cotton, subsidies for inputs and access to input credit. Cotton farmers are very price sensitive but attempts to control the price can have a negative impact on the willingness of the private sector to invest in the production support mechanism.
Lack of irrigation facilities
With the collapse of the Hola and Bura irrigation schemes which accounted for over 30% of cotton production in the country, cotton is mostly grown under rainfall conditions. Yields are
adversely affected by unreliable rainfall. Where irrigated cotton is grown there is a lack of proper water use in irrigating cotton sometimes leading to waterlogging and poor crop yield.
High input costs
Costs associated with spraying, weeding, and harvesting contributed to the high cost of production. Pesticide costs are high and can contribute up to 51.70% of the input costs. Gross margins can range from KES 1,614 to KES 12,520 per hectare. Inadequate use of mechanization contributes significantly to high production costs.
Competition from enterprises with higher gross margins
This is especially true within the irrigation schemes where horticultural produce and production of seed for food crops are preferred. The Bura and Hola irrigation schemes were revived two years ago and cotton production within the scheme is already of a low priority to
Inadequate availability of quality planting seed
A seed bulking and certified support program was started in 2007. However, this is currently inadequate and requires strengthening in terms of additional trained manpower and financing. Investments, especially on equipment for the commercial production of seed by the private sector, is also limited.
Distribution of substandard agro-chemicals
Substandard or entirely fake agrochemicals especially pesticides are often sold to farmers. The Pesticides Control Produce Board (PCPB) is not able to ensure that all products sold are genuine due to limited manpower.
Lack of an updated quality assurance protocol and testing equipment
While quality assurance procedures and standards exist, lack of more modern equipment such
as High Volume instrument (HVI) means that cotton from Kenya is of unknown quality.
The two varieties recommended for commercial production, HART 89M and KSA 81M have a production potential of 2,500 kg/hectare and over 4,000 kg/hectare under rainfed and irrigated conditions. This potential is however far from being achieved with the average yields being 572 kg/hectare.
Cotton Farming in Kenya – Cotton Improvement
Acquisition of new varieties and selection of superior traits
Acquiring new varieties, characterizing, evaluating and multiplying the seed gives the breeder vast germplasm for selection of superior varieties. This is done either through direct acquisition or selection from those already maintained at the National Genebank of Kenya (NGBK).
Field rejuvenation of existing varieties/lines from the NGBK is carried out on a regular basis, with the objective of obtaining pre-basic seed of promising varieties. Recently acquired lines/varieties frequently used in variety trials including the 2 commercial varieties also often undergo field rejuvenation.
Cotton Farming in Kenya – Cotton Protection
Use of pesticides on cotton
The majority of cotton farmers in Kenya spray their cotton fields using various synthetic pesticides to alleviate pest damage. The number of sprays varies with the pest incidence or what the farmers can afford to buy. Though these pesticides protect crops and enhance yields, some have adverse effects on human health, wildlife, beneficial insects and biodiversity. Such negative effects arise from direct exposure, spray drift, washing clothes used during spraying, poor pesticide storage at homes, limited use of protective clothing and poor disposal of empty pesticide containers. In addition, pest resistance due to improper use of pesticides and natural build-up of resistance in insect populations continues to be a major challenge.
Other methods of pest control
Control of cotton pests may be carried out using cultural methods such as intercropping, crop rotation, and destruction of cotton plants immediately after harvest. The use of resistant cotton cultivars, timely removal of pest host weeds, use of trap crops is additional methods. Plant extracts/botanicals, biological control agents and the use of biological control agents and biopesticides (including Bt cotton) are methods used in pest control.
While weed control in Kenya is mainly carried out manually, herbicides are more efficient in terms of cost and timely weed control. The development of cotton varieties with herbicide tolerance is set to see an increase in the use of herbicides.
Use of plant extracts
Field evaluation tests on the efficacy of selected botanical pesticides against arthropod pests of cotton and their natural enemies have been undertaken at KARI-Mwea over the last 4 years with encouraging results. Tobacco leaf powder consistently outperformed pesticides commonly used in the control of aphids and cotton stainers, without affecting the natural enemy populations.
Frequently Asked Question About Cotton Farming in Kenya
Does Kenya have the capacity to regulate cotton?
Kenya has the requisite framework for regulating GM crops in general. The country has a National Policy on Biotechnology Development, 2006. The policy charts a vision towards the development and safe application of the technology. In 2009, the country enacted its biosafety legislation – Biosafety Act No.2 of 2009. The Act lays down legal and institutional frameworks for governing modern biotechnology. It paved way for the establishment of the National Biosafety Authority (NBA) which was officially inaugurated in 2010.
The Authority is mandated to conduct overall supervision and monitoring of GM crops under research, cultivation and in the market. The Authority works closely with eight (8) other regulatory agencies. As of March 2018, the Authority had reviewed and approved a total of 71 applications: 27 for contained use, 14 for confined field trials, 2 for environmental release and 28 for trans-boundary movement of GM products for humanitarian assistance and relief supplies.
Is there a market for Bt cotton produce?
With the sink in the cotton industry, only 5 out of 22 ginneries are operational in Kenya as of 2017, producing an average of 25,000 bales against an annual demand of 200,000 bales. The deficit is covered through imports. Thus, the demand for quality of locally produced cotton is insatiable.
Can farmers save their Bt cotton seeds for replanting?
It is a good agronomic practice to plant new seeds each year to ensure consistently good harvests, especially where the seed is a hybrid. Since Bt cotton seeds will be available as hybrids, farmers are advised to apply the same management practices as for other hybrid seeds.