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November 27, 2011

GM cotton to be commercialized in Kenya by end of 2014

by Ronald Njoroge and David Musyoka

High yielding biotech cotton (Bt) will be commercialized in Kenya by the end of 2014, a Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) scientist has said.

Principal Investigator of Bt cotton in Kenya Dr. Charles Waturu, said in Nairobi that the research institution is currently carrying out field tests on the safety of the three different varieties of Bolgard II, which have been adapted to Kenya’s conditions in readiness for distribution to farmers.

"So far investigations are very promising and therefore an inaugural 40 tonnes of the Bt cotton from South Africa belonging to Monsanto will be shipped into the country for commercial planting by the end of 2014," Waturu said.

Bt variety of cotton incorporates a gene from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis which confers resistance against bollworm. Bollworm is the major pest affecting cotton production in Kenya.

Waturu said that the country will begin with a pilot project of 10 tonnes of the improved variety of cotton which will be grown in the Bura and Hola irrigation schemes and thereafter rolled out to the rest of the farmers in the country.

"The Bt cotton is resistant to one of the greatest threats to the cash crop, Bollworms insect, which discourages cotton growing in the country," Waturu said. He said that farmers therefore don’t have to use as much pesticides as before, which in turn reduces their cost of production and increases profits.

"The KARI centre will also serve as the seed production hub for the East African region," he said.

The local varieties of cotton yields about 800 kg per hectare compared to the new variety that produces 20 percent more in the same area.

According to Waturu, the country produced 21,000 bales of cotton last year compared to a potential of one million bales as farmers are facing numerous production problems.

Central Agriculture Board Chairman Gerishon Nzuva, who has just returned from Burkina Faso on a study tour of the country’s adoption of the Bt cotton, said that the variety is doing well in the West African nation and it could have a positive impact on Kenya’s cotton farmers’ yields.

"While Kenya and Burkina Faso have different growing seasons and conditions, the new variety should improve the cotton sector.''

He also called for good stewardship to manage the gene flow of the new variety. Burkina Faso is the second African country after South Africa to move from trial stage of the Bt cotton to actual farming.

Nzuva said successful commercialization of Bt cotton will provide Kenyan farmers with the opportunity to join farmers from South Africa and Burkina Faso who are already benefiting from commercial growing of Bt cotton.

Commercialisation of Bt cotton seeds is a part of the effort of the government to revive cotton production in the country after it collapsed in the late 1980s.

Cotton production which had touched 70,000 bales (1bale=170 kg) in 1986, touched a low of just 25,000 bales in 2009.

Bt cotton seeds have gained acceptance due to the fact that they do not need spraying of pesticides as well as deliver double the yield. Experts however contend that long use of Bt cotton seeds is harmful to the soil.

KARI says it will control distribution of cotton seeds to avoid sales of spurious seeds.

According to KARI, the country has the potential to grow 260, 000 bales of cotton, by increasing the area of cultivation from 30, 450 hectares at present to 350,000 hectares.

Experts attribute the fall in cotton production in the country to the practice of cultivating recycled cotton seeds, which deliver low productivity and since Bt cotton seeds cannot be replanted, it is expected to eliminate this practice.

Coast Week

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