The world over is gradually embracing use of biotechnology in the agricultural sector to boost production and ensure environmental safety. Although there has been a spirited debate on both the positive and negative impacts on application of biotechnology in the food chain due to the fear of genetically modified crops transferring the modified genes to humans.
Kerio Valley region farmers may again soon go back to growing cotton after the national government through Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO), Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS), National Biosafety Authority and government lead scientists started testing four genetically modified cotton hybrid varieties in three counties, Baringo among them.
The Cotton national performance trials are being carried out in Perkerra, Mwea, Barwessa, Katumani, Bura Tana, and Kampi ya Mawe irrigation schemes.
According to the Director Horticulture Research Institute Dr. Charles Waturu, the move of reviving the cash crop was necessitated by the president’s big four agenda of realizing economic benefits through manufacturing particularly the textile industry.
The government is carrying out tests on 10 BT cotton hybrid varieties and the major focus is on resistance to pests and diseases especially the notorious African bollworm which discouraged farmers from growing the crop in the recent past due to crop failure after being attacked by the pest.
Dr Waturu who is also the lead scientist in the research on BT Cotton dismissed those propagating that GMO products are not safe to humans saying that before any product is introduced into the market particularly those consumed by human beings and animals they are subjected to a thorough scientific and safe health processes to safeguard the consumers against any negative effects of these products.
“The world over is embracing use of technology to improve production in the agricultural sector with up to 300 million hectares of land globally in under GM crops, meaning it is safe,” Dr Waturu said.
Besides,scientists are almost confirming that the BT cotton variety is resistant to pests and diseases paving way for farmers to start reviving the cash crop.
The improved cotton variety is expected to triple the yield from the initial 2500 to 6000kgs per hectare. Since it is also resistant to pests and diseases, it will help farmers reduce the cost of production by using less pesticide.
The government has earmarked Coast, Eastern, Rift valley and Lake Regions for commercial production of BT cotton once the performance trials are successful due to their potential of producing upto 300,000 bales of lint annually. Cotton prices are currently trading at Kshs 65/- per kg.
CEC in charge of Agriculture, Livestock and fisheries, Dr. Richard Rotich urged farmers to embrace hybrid variety seeds developed through biotechnology and distributed by KALRO when they start growing the crop.
“Since cotton production is labour intensive and most farmers in Baringo are small scale, he assured of continuous County government support to ensure that the crop becomes the major cash crop in the County adding that Baringo County has a potential of producing 900 tonnes of cotton annually translating to about Kshs 50 million in revenue”, he explained.
Kerio valley region has a potential of 600,000 tonnes of cotton annually with Baringo and Elgeiyo Marakwet counties taking the lead. Cotton farming was abandoned by Baringo farmers due to unattractive prices which keep on fluctuating in the world market controlled by China and India who are the highest producers.
The government will distribute free seeds to farmers on the onset of heavy rains in April next year signaling full scale production of cotton in the country. Also subsidized pesticides will be made available to the farmers and Moi University through Rivertex East Africa limited company will purchase cotton from farmers.
These efforts are aimed at reducing the cost of production thus having a multiplier effect on the price of textile products manufactured locally in order to compete with the second hand textile products that many Kenyans feel are affordable compared to the locally manufactured.
BT cotton with other six crops; genetically enhanced maize, viral resistant cassava, salt-tolerant rice, nutritionally enhanced sorghum, pigeon peas and hybrid sweet potatoes are on performance trials because the government is seeking to address food security through use of technology.