New cotton variety to boost farmer’s income.
A genetically modified cotton seed variety with high resistance to the Boll worm infestation is due to be released to the farmers in Kenya soon.
Director of the Thika based Horticultural Research Institute and lead Researcher Dr Charles Waturu, said the new variety will be released to farmers in dry irrigation areas of the Coastal region for seed breeding purpose.
“This will be a pilot project and once we establish it fully, farmers in Lamu, Kwale and Kilifi can produce enough seeds, then we will later roll out the project to all other cotton producing counties ,’’ said Dr Waturu.
The BT cotton which is high yielding, drought resistant and already being cultivated in Burkina Faso and South Africa brings high financial returns to the farmers, according to Dr. Waturu.
Speaking at a farmer’s awareness training on Genetically Modified (GM) crop technology in Sagana town, the researcher said the variety was superior to the traditional one which requires more than 15 sprays before maturity.
“With BT cotton, at most two sprays are enough saving the farmers the agony of spending too much money on insecticides and pesticides, leading to a financial benefit reap up from the crop ,’’ he said.
He said the high reproduction rate of the Boll worm and self protection mechanism made chemical control difficult thus leading to many farmers abandoned the farming of cotton.
Dr. Waturu said the government has already established a task force that is working for a road map towards the expected release of the BT cotton seed to the farmers by 2019.
‘’This task force was formed by the Agriculture Cabinet Secretary and is working hard to ensure the set timelines for the release of the BT cotton seed for commercial farming are met,’’ he said.
Already the National Performance Trials of the BT cotton were undertaken at Kimbimbi Research center in 2002 where the plant did so well with bottom to top yields but is yet to go commercial.
The researcher said it was prevalent that the new cotton variety also attracted many bees which came to extract nectar during the flowering stage and in return provide high quality honey to the farmers.
The participants drawn from across the country in areas where cotton is grown said the government should take too long to legalize the commercialization of the new cotton variety.
James Riaga from Kisumu County said it was contradicting for the government to import BT cotton from India, China and South Africa to run the Economic Processing Zone (EPZ), at Athi River when the country has such enormous potential to produce the same locally.
Riaga said once the variety is commercialized all the cotton ginneries which collapsed in the mid 80’s will be revived and create the much needed jobs besides improving the livelihoods of the growers.
Dr Margaret Karambu a crop scientist put at 185 million hectares the land under the new variety in countries that produce the fiber crop, Soya bean and Maize as at last year.
She said in India the crop earned the country Sh 1.3 billion from the two bi-products (fiber and seed oil) and that was the forward given the emerging challenges posed by climate change.
She said Sudan has also embraced the BT cotton production with 60,000 hectares already under the cultivation of crop which has high returns both to the country and the farmers.
Karambu who is also the Director for the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Acquisitions (ISAAA), Afri- Centre said only between 30 to 40 per cent of cotton fiber is used for textile while the rest is used for animal feed and cotton oil.
‘’It is therefore evident that cotton plant gives farmers multiple benefits raging from the fiber, cotton cake for dairy animals to cooking cotton oil extracted from the seed,’’ she said.
Farmers from Kilifi county who were represented by a Youth from the area Michael Kasena said the government should legalize not only cotton but BT Maize and Soya beans which are drought and pest resistant in order to make the country food secure.
National Biosafety Authority (NBA) director Professor Theophilus Mutui who was present to give an insight to the farmers said since the BT cotton has been put on National Performance Trials, they will certainly be allowed to produce it once all legal frameworks and procedures were in place.
He told the farmers the NBA has given provisional conditions to start rolling out the BT seed in the country in accordance with its regulations as scheduled.
Dr Belay Getachew, adviser (Common Market for eastern and southern Africa) COMESA of biotechnology crops, said BT cotton and BT maize were the ultimate answers to Africa’s food deficiency.
He said unless Africa as an agriculture dependent continent embraces the emerging farming and crop technologies, then its people will live to suffer from perennial food shortages.
BT cotton is a genetically modified organism (GMO) cotton variety which produces over 200 different toxins each harmful to different insects which cause damage to the crop.
The toxins, according to Dr. John Kimani the Center Manager KARLO Mwea are insecticidal to the larvae of moths , cotton bollworms and beetles and keep away from the BT cotton plant thereby saving farmers huge sums of money they would have spent on spraying chemicals on traditional cotton plants.
By Irungu Mwangi