The Agriculture ministry is pushing for the formation of cooperative societies in cotton-growing areas in the eastern region, in a move expected to scale up cotton production.
Mr Japhet Iteere, who is in charge of the Fibre and Crops Directorate in the region, said they are working with farmers in Tigania West (Meru), Embu, Kirinyaga and Tharaka-Nithi counties where cooperative societies will be formed and already, farmers in Tigania West have set up a sacco.
“There are prospects of higher income for farmers because for instance, since we started setting farm gate prices we have eliminated middle men who used to exploit farmers,” he said, adding that the price per kilo this year is Sh46, up from Sh40 three years ago.
“As members of cooperatives they will get access to seeds, finances and extension services. They will also be paid cash on delivery to encourage them,” he said on Wednesday in a telephone interview.
An estimated 350,000 hectares of land in the country is suitable for rain-fed cotton production with the potential to produce about 260,000 bales of lint annually, and 34,500 hectares for irrigated cotton with the potential to produce 108,000 bales.
However, only about 25,000 hectares is currently under the crop and the total annual lint production stands at only about 20,000 bales.
Ginners have decried lack of raw material that has forced them to operate below capacity and close the factories when there is no cotton.
Meru Ginnery general manager David Kihoro said they shut the factory that employs about 40 workers a week ago due to unavailability of raw material.
“Our installed capacity is 60 metric tonnes a day but we are operating at only 15 per cent. In 2015, we did 800 tonnes, and in 2016 production rose to 1500 tonnes, declining to 800 tonnes last year due to drought,” he said in an interview with the Business Daily at the factory at Gaitu.
He said in the past week they were forced to source for cotton from as far as Mpeketoni in Lamu County and will start ginning on Monday.
Farmers in the area used to grow the crop but since the sector went down in the 1990s, they took to other alternatives including maize, beans and sorghum.
“We have a challenge to re-introduce the cash crop after farmers got frustrated and moved on to growing other crops.
"Initially they were not interested but they are changing especially with improved prices,” Mr Kihoro said.
“There is ready market since textile manufacturers are starved of lint and have to import it from neighbouring countries especially Tanzania. At the moment we are getting orders of up to 16,000 bales of 200 kilos each from one buyer per year but we can only supply about 2,000,” he added.
The cotton sub-sector has been identified as one that could help bring fast economic development with the government putting emphasis in reviving it.
According to the Export Processing Zones Authority (EPZA), in the early 1980’s the textile industry was the leading manufacturing activity in Kenya, both in terms of size and employment, with over 200,000 direct jobs to farming households and about 30 per cent of the labour force in the national manufacturing sector.
The sub-sector started declining in the mid-1980s after importation of second hand clothes (mitumba), which resulted to low demand by textile industry.
However, it has recorded growth over the past five years, leveraging from the benefits of the African Growth and Opportunity Action (AGOA) that allows access to US markets by Kenyan textile firms.