Inspire. Inform. Involve.  

Cotton in Kenya – Cotton Farming in Kenya

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 1970’s Kenya was a major East African producer of seed cotton for both local 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, result 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.

Cotton in Kenya

Cotton in Kenya

Garments manufacturers produce various products for the local market and export. Close to 46 per cent 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 apparel and other products are assured of local, 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 area under cultivation was increased. The bulk of the crop is grown in western Kenya where, before setbacks in the industry, textiles industries such as Kisumu Cotton Mills and Rift Valley Textiles were household names.

Cotton  Farming in Kenya – Production Improvement

Poor yields from smallholder cotton in Africa have been a long-standing problem that has not
been greatly altered by release of new varieties or by other recommendations made 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 recognised 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 partnership 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 which 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 – 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 farmers will reserve minimal resources in terms of fertiliser application and crop
protection for cotton in preference to food crops.

Exiting Articles

Policy issues

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 production support

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 water logging 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 upto 51.70% of the input costs. Gross
margins can range from KES 1,614 to KES 12,520 per hectare.
Inadequate use of mechanisation, 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 is 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
the farmers.

Inadequate availability of quality planting seed
A seed bulking and certified support programme 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.

Low yields
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 triats

Acquiring new varieties, characterizing, evaluating and multiplying the seed give the breeder a 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
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’s 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

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 are 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.

Weed 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.

Cotton  Farming in Kenya – Video