Uhuru banks on biotech cotton for 50,000 jobs

Treasury secretary Henry Rotich. FILE PHOTO | NMG
Treasury secretary Henry Rotich. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

President Uhuru Kenyatta is betting on mass production of genetically modified cotton to create 50,000 jobs and generate Sh20 billion in apparel export earnings this year as part of his final term economic revival plan.

The plan, which includes policy review and crafting of new incentive schemes, is also expected to generate 10,000 jobs in the apparel sector.

In a draft Budgetary Policy Statement (BPS) seen by the Business Daily, Treasury secretary Henry Rotich says the plan will start with the training of 50,000 youth and women to engage in biotechnology (BT) cotton production.

By the end of 2018, the State expects to have expanded acreage under cotton to 200,000 hectares, up from 29,000 currently.

“There will be policy reviews for the sector and construction of 5 million square feet of industrial parks in 2018,” Mr Rotich says in the draft BPS.

BT cotton is resistant to drought and pests. While genetically modified plants are generally banned in Kenya, the National Biosafety Authority gave a nod to open field trials of BT cotton last year.

The fact that the government is banking on it to rev up manufacturing sector  implies the State may soon approve its open cultivation.

Underperformance of the cotton industry has exposed Kenya to the volatility of the international market as it has to import nearly every textile product for consumption and export generation, official data indicates.

The country spent Sh26.8 billion to import textile products in the first 10 months of 2017 or 20 per cent more than the same period in 2016, the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) data shows.

Among the textile items imported in 2017 were secondhand clothes at a cost of Sh9.81 billion, Sh9.91 billion worth of articles (pieces) of clothing, Sh4.21 billion of textile fibre and Sh2.88 worth of yarn.

The renewed efforts to revive the labour-intensive sector is in line with Uhuru’s four-point agenda which seeks to lift economic contribution of manufacturing to 15 per cent, up from 9.2 per cent in 2016.