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Revival of Rivatex breathes life into textile industry

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A worker at Rivatex production unit. PHOTO | ONYANGO K'ONYANGO | NMG

Local textile firms are at the centre of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s ‘Buy Kenya, Build Kenya’ initiative aimed at bolstering the manufacturing sector and creating more job opportunities.

President Kenyatta has said the plan is part of the campaign to promote local production and reduce overreliance on second-hand clothes, popularly known as Mitumba.

“This initiative accords Kenyans an opportunity to access quality, locally made affordable clothes with prices range from Sh100 to Sh600 for the same clothes that are sold at Sh6,000 in the US and UK markets,” President Kenyatta said in a past event.

The President noted that the initiative is also geared towards restoring the dignity of Kenyans by ensuring that they have access to brand new clothes instead of mitumba (secondhand clothes).

According to a report titled The State of Second-Hand Clothes and Footwear Trade in Kenya, published on March 4, 2021, by the Institute of Economic Affairs, Kenyans spent Sh197.5 billion in 2019 on clothes and footwear.

“2.5 percent of private consumption in Kenya was spent on clothing and footwear for the year 2019. This spending amounts to Sh197.5 billion which comes to an average of Sh4,150 per person per year for all purchases of second-hand garments, new clothes, and footwear,” reads the report in parts.

The report says 79.2 percent of rural dwellers spent Sh1,000 on mitumba during the period, compared to 67.8 percent of households in urban areas.

Some 91.5 percent of households, the survey shows, bought second-hand clothes worth Sh1,000 and below, while 8.5 percent purchased second-hand clothes worth Sh1,000 and above.

The survey reveals that 74.5 percent of all households bought new clothes priced below Sh1,000, while 25.5 percent bought new clothes costing above Sh1,000.

The report underlines the fact that Kenyans mainly go for Mitumba because they are way cheaper compared to new clothes.

However, local textile firms are seeking to convince Kenyans to buy local products, saying they are not only affordable but of good quality.

Eldoret-based Rivatex and Kitui County Textile Centre (Kicotec) are in the frontline to produce locally made garments.

Apart from the eye-catching shirts which the President adorn on many occasions, Rivatex is also producing bedsheets, military uniforms, hospital linen, suiting, shirting material among others.

When relaunching the company in 2019, President Kenyatta ordered government employees to put on clothes made by local textile factories every Friday as a way of promoting the sector.

Rivatex Managing Director, Prof Thomas Kipkurgat, told Business Daily that the President has been ordering shirts from the firm.

“The President is our number one marketer and we applaud him for constantly taking the lead in the promotion of local products. He has put us on a high pedestal and the map of our country and beyond,” says Prof. Kipkurgat.

He said owing to the President’s preference for the shirts, other prominent personalities such as Cabinet Secretaries, lawmakers, governors and other senior government officials have also been placing orders.

“This is a good gesture that has lifted our hopes and we strive to do more now that we have modern machines. Through his love for our shirts, we have been able to penetrate the market.”

Prof Kipkurgat has been tasked with revamping the firm that was once on the brink of collapse due to financial challenges before Moi University acquired it in 2007.

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A worker at the Rivatex tailoring unit. PHOTO | ONYANGO K'ONYANGO | NMG

The MD said the modernisation of the facility has significantly helped in efforts to maximise production.

“We have made efforts to modernise the place to help improve the local content in terms of doing military uniforms and bedsheets. We have also continued to help in fighting Covid-19 by producing reusable masks,” he said.

“We are also expanding in terms of production per day. We can do 30,000 metres per day compared to previous years when we were doing 5,000-10,000 metres,” he added.

The MD disclosed that the company has raised its production capacity and opened shops across the country to supply its range of garments.

“Our staff work round the clock to ensure they meet our customers’ needs,” Prof Kipkurgat said.

Presently, the company is supplying clothes to various government institutions including the Kenya Medical Supplies Authority (Kemsa), Kenya Defence Forces (KDF), the Police, National Youth Service, Kenyatta National Hospital and Kenyatta University.

Inadequate raw materials, high labour and electricity costs are some of the factors which have led to the slow revival of the once vibrant textile firm.

Below capacity

The company management has in the past admitted operating below capacity due to a serious shortage of cotton, producing an average of 40,000 bales against a capacity of 70,000 bales annually.

In a move to expand its production level, the company has embarked on the distribution of pesticides to 43,000 smallholder cotton farmers to fight bollworms and improve yield. The farmers initially received free seeds from the company.

The company has been engaging farmers in various counties of Busia, Siaya, Migori, Kisumu, Bungoma, Kericho, West Pokot, Elgeiyo Marakwet, Baringo, Kirinyaga, Embu, Meru, Kitui and Makueni. Other counties are Machakos, Isiolo, Tharaka Nithi, Tana River, Kilifi, Lamu and Kwale.

READ: Kisumu in fresh bid to revive cotton

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The farmers have in the past been planting conventional seeds that were not able to achieve a good return. Currently, farmers enjoy good yields through hybrid seeds such as Ha 211,701, Mahyco 570, 571, and 567 even as they look forward to planting BT cotton which is expected to double their production.

Most farmers who received the pesticides are optimistic that their crops will perform well this year.

“The pests have been a nuisance in the past but we are grateful that now we have a solution. We have also been trained by Rivatex on the best practices to improve yield and better our livelihoods,” said Patrick Kibet, a farmer from Chegilet in Elgeyo Marakwet County.

Samuel Liker, another cotton farmer from Salawa, Baringo County noted that with improved yields, several youths will gain employment.

“We are now looking forward to BT cotton. We are hopeful that more farmers will join in the exercise so that we can provide raw materials to Rivatex. Currently, we are happy with the current cotton prices,” added Mr Liker who has been farming cotton for the past 30 years.

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Rivatex cotton programmes manager Charles Lagat gives out cotton seeds to a farmer in Lower Moiben, Uasin Gishu County. PHOTO | ONYANGO K'ONYANGO | NMG

Prof Kipkurgat blames the sectors’ woes on challenges emanating from beyond our borders.

“When most institutions collapsed following the introduction of Structural Adjustment Program (SAP) and liberalisation of markets in the world, farmers stopped planting cotton because of poor prices, becoming a challenge to get the raw materials. As a facility, we are now encouraging farmers to resume cotton farming through the provision of free seeds and pesticides,” said the managing director.

“So far we have been able to reach more than 22 counties and re-activated cotton farming. We are encouraging them to by guaranteeing a good market for their produce.”

He observed that several farmers are currently registered in cooperatives making it easy for them to receive farm inputs and avail their cotton lint to the ginnery.

Prof. Kipkurgat noted that farmers are currently reaping good fortunes from the hybrid seeds that were distributed to them early this year.

Similar sentiments were echoed by the company’s cotton programmes manager Charles Lagat, who observed that there is increased productivity thanks to the new seeds.

“When you compare with the conventional seeds, there is a huge difference. The current breed is four times higher in terms of yield but is prone to pests,” he said.

He called on cotton farmers to prepare for the BT cotton which he said will be a game-changer as it guarantees even higher yield and resistance to pests such as bollworms.

Farmers willing to grow cotton are currently being provided with free seeds and pesticides from Rivatex.

The announcement by President Kenyatta on lifting the ban on BT cotton is sweet music to the ears of most farmers in the country. Those who had abandoned the crop are waiting in earnest to embark on cultivating their farms.

According to research and test results conducted by the National Performance Trials, the new variety can produce more than 1,000 kilogrammes per acre compared to the traditional variety which can produce between 500 and 800 kilos.

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Rivatex managing director Thomas Kipkurgat (left) hands over pesticides to cotton farmers in Teso North, Busia County. PHOTO | ONYANGO K'ONYANGO | NMG

To further boost the sector, the government is keen on engaging the Export Processing Zones Authority so that textile firms located there source their raw materials locally.

Speaking during a visit to Rivatex, the Director of Planning at the Ministry of Industry Trade and Enterprise Development, Jared Ichwara said textile companies operating in EPZ should buy local raw materials.

“We now want to make sure that all Export Processing Zone (EPZ) firms in the country that focus on garment stitching can source its materials locally. Through this move, companies such as Rivatex will be able to move to a higher level,” he said.

He disclosed that the government has since 2014 pumped almost Sh5 billion in modernising Rivatex, creating over 3,000 jobs and providing fabrics to over 30,000 tailors across the country.

“In the next financial year, we want to give Rivatex Sh500 million which is remaining on this project of modernisation. We hope that the money will assist Rivatex to be able to do value addition. They are doing a lot of clothing for our military, police, schools and hospitals so that we can support ‘Buy Kenya, Build Kenya’,” he disclosed.

Mr Ichwara, who was accompanied by Vision 2030 Delivery Secretariat Director-General Kenneth Muige, said the sector is key in boosting the country’s GDP.

On his part, Mr Muige noted that the country spends close to Sh20 billion on imports and called on local industries to redouble their efforts.

He noted that one of the aims of Vision 2030 is to convert Kenya into a newly industrialising country, through cottage industries.

“We are here to recommend to the public to now focus on the promotion of local apparel because the future is in manufacturing. We need to be proud of our production,” he said.

Kicotec, owned by the county government, seeks to reduce the cost of garments especially school uniforms.

According to Governor Charity Ngilu, an average of 486,000 students in both primary and secondary schools in the county will save over Sh2 billion in a year translating to Sh2.43 billion annually, by procuring uniforms from Kicotec.

“The county is targeting income from local and national productions that will play a key role in boosting the economy. The gains from Kicotec will support other services of the county like provision of clean water, affordable healthcare and education,” she said.

“The Kicotec’s establishment will promote buying of local products and essentially support local businesses to grow, especially the Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), which account for the highest percentage of the county’s income.”

Currently, an estimated 50,000 farmers are growing cotton in Kenya, producing 25,000 bales against a demand of 200,000 bales of lint with the BT cotton expected to increase production to an annual average of 260,000 bales.