Farmers in six counties have been allowed to plant biotech (Bt) hybrid cotton as the State moves to ramp up local raw material supply lines for Export Processing Zone (EPZ) manufacturers.
The pest-resistant Bt cotton will boost raw material supply to the EPZ firms, enabling them to ditch the use of imported semi-finished fabrics in the production of exports, says Industrialisation Principal Secretary Francis Owino.
“The trial cultivation of Bt cotton is ongoing in six counties — Busia, Baringo, Tana River, Kirinyaga, Makueni and Meru — and once ratified will guarantee steady supply of raw materials to textile manufactures,” Dr Owino said when he toured New Rivatex over the weekend.
In December, the Cabinet approved controlled farming of BT cotton for commercial purposes following field trials conducted over a period of five years.
This happened amid rising concern over an annual fabrics import bill of Sh17 billion that currently sustains the production of clothes at the Athi River-based EPZ manufacturers.
The normal cotton variety yields an average of 5,300 tonnes of lint against demand of about 38,000 tonnes with the deficit being imported from neighbouring countries.
The North Rift harvested 852.60 tonnes of cotton from 794.5 hectares last season as revival of Salawa cotton ginnery and distribution of free seed by the government motivated farmers in Kerio valley to take up the crop.
According to reports by the Ministry of Agriculture released last year, the North Rift has potential of between 300 and 400 hectares of cotton production under irrigation.
Moi University through Rift Valley Textile Mills (Rivatex) has acquired 50,000 acres of land in Mwingi, 1,000 acres and 100 acres in Kerio Valley and Mogotio respectively to grow its own cotton.
The demand for cotton is set to increase after the government injected Sh650 million for modernisation of New Rivatex, the main textile manufacturing firm in Rift Valley.
“The release of the Sh650 million next week will fast-track the modernisation of Rivatex, expand job creation and ready market for cotton,” Dr Owino said.