The trials on genetically modified (GM) cotton have come to an end with a bumper harvest in the second season crop but the country seems stuck with the commodity, even as the market demand remains unmet, due to an official ban on its use.
The cotton in Mwea planted in February has so far yielded 6.1 tonnes a hectare according to State scientists against 1.5 tonnes realised from the conventional variety planted alongside the GM one. The conventional variety produces 10 balls while the biotech one yields more than 35 per stem.
Attention now shifts to the government on whether it will allow farmers to access the new technology amid a huge deficit that has to be met through imports. According to the Fibre Crops Directorate, Kenya requires a 120,000 bales of lint per year with current shortage seeing Kenya import more than half of the requirement.
“The issue of the ban needs to be addressed before we move to the next stage,” says Dorington Ogoyi, chief executive of National Biosafety Authority, which manages GMOs in the country.
According to scientists, the crop has met all the parameters required to move to the next stage after the successful national performance trials, but a 2012 restriction stands.
Charles Waturu, a senior research scientist with Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organisation (Kalro), said the results from the biotech cotton have demonstrated the potential that it has in transforming the textile industry.
Dr Waturo said the cotton had shown resistance to the notorious bollworm that has been blamed for losses farmers face, reducing the use of pesticides.