By admin       2018-01-08

Few crops have been able fight off the earth-baking sun in parts of former Eastern region. One of them, however, has been defiant. Cotton. You can spot it sticking up boldly from the sandy soils of Makueni County. And in Meru County, the soft, fluffy staple fibre beautifully bursts out of a boll.The cotton industry can easily be the stem on which President Uhuru Kenyatta builds one of his Big Four plans - reviving the manufacturing sector and employing millions of jobless youth. Yet, large tracts of land in the parts of the country with a favourable environment for growing cotton remain uncultivated. And the few who have grown the drought-resistant plant, which does well at low altitude and can survive on meagre rainfall, are not a proud a lot.After a series of interviews with farmers in the arid and semi-arid parts of Kitui, Makueni, Meru and Embu, you realise many of the old men and women still stuck in the trade are simply nostalgic. Somehow they are hopeful that things will miraculously revert back to the good old days when income from cotton helped them buy cows and educate their children. But generally, costly inputs such as pesticides eat into their earnings, leaving them with nothing. Moreover, the price they get paid by ginneries is not good. Most of the farmers in Kitui feel exploited by middlemen who go round buying it at a low-price from farmers and selling it at a high price to the mills. An official from Fibre Crops Directorate, which manages cotton and sisal, told The Standard that there is a feeling that farmers need to benefit from the whole value chain, and not just lint and seed. Things started going badly in the cotton sector in the early 1990s when the State stopped supporting certain ventures, in what came to be known as structural adjustment programmes (SAPs). Cotton is one of the sectors that was left unattended, and thousands of farmers left the trade.armers in Kitui said almost half of them in the region dropped out of cultivating cotton, citing poor prices and extension services, and expensive labour. Joseph Maweu, a farmer in Makueni, said he left the trade after doing a cost-benefit analysis. He says the cost of inputs has really gone up and they are being exploited by middlemen. “Pesticide is a problem,” said Nelson Muturi, a cotton farmer in Embu. “If the Government can help us with loans, we can get some very good yields.” Ginneries, where farmers sell their cotton for separation of the lint from the seed, also went silent. And the ones operating are not utilising their full capacity. Currently, there are only four operational ginneries in the country at Makueni, Kitui, Meru and Salawa, out of an establishment of 22 factories. There are talks underway between the national government, county governments and other value chain players to revive Mpeketoni, Malindi and Nyanza ginneries. President Kenyatta, during the 2017 Jamhuri Day celebrations in Nairobi, said the Government will support framers to grow cotton and ensure the same is bought locally. As part of his ambitious plan to address his four key agenda, he said the entire textile industry will receive adequate support from the Government and development partners among other value chain players to guarantee farmers improved earnings. The big four plan seeks to enhance manufacturing, food security, affordable housing and health care for all. “Under the big four plan, we will support farmers to plant cotton, which we guarantee to buy. We have revived Rivatex EA Ltd, our premier textile manufacturer, and we will give incentives to investors to build more modern ginneries and textile manufacturing plants,” said Uhuru. The Fibre directorate is planning to introduce BT Cotton Seed, which is not easily devastated by the American bollworm. The market for cotton, right from the ginners to the spinners is lucrative. Spinners still have to go outside looking for lint. “The Kenyan textile industry faces an inadequate supply of locally produced cotton, and that which is available is of poor quality,” said World Bank in a report on the country’s textile industry. “This means the majority of export-quality fabric manufactured in Kenya is made from imported fibres due to the poor quality and high trash content in local lint. The implication is that the textile sector in Kenya has to choose between the high cost of imported material and the low-quality of local fibre,” added the report. Fibre Crops Directorate Interim Head Anthony Muriithi confirmed that a medium term plan is being implemented, focusing largely on increasing production and quality.

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