A growing number of cotton ginneries coupled with rising prices of cotton prices in and out of the country has seen more farmers go back to a crop they abandoned in the 90s due to poor pay. The investment in cotton production and marketing by the county governments has also spruced up its cultivation in the country.
In the larger Makueni in Eastern region, over 80 per cent of farmers are now growing the crop, and in Rift Valley farmer numbers have nearly tripled from the 1500 growers recorded in 2011. The renewed interest from farmers is being spurred by the incentives that cotton stakeholders are offering.
The government is now giving farmers free seed and some of the ginneries are employing extension officers to train farmers in good farm management practices. In the Rift Valley, Salawa Ginnery is also helping farmers with farm inputs like pesticides, spray pump credit and ploughing services, which sees farmers pay back interest free loans after harvest.
The crop has one annual planting season, but the appeal of this support has seen Salawa register 3500 cotton farmers, up from 1200 in 2012. “We have employed 30 extension officers,” said Devan Khagram of Salawa Ginnery one of the resuscitated ginneries.
Under the supervision of the Cotton Development Board (CODA), farmers are now selling a kilogram of cotton at Sh65, a price set by the board. This compares with Sh15 per kilogram or less for Rift Valley farmers in the1990s. Last year, cotton farmers were paid Sh32 per kilogram, and the previous year Sh30.
Most of the farmers in Kerio Rift Valley are farming cotton in one acre pieces of land, which if the right agronomic practices are applied can yield 800kg an acre. But, according to Devan, the most Kerio farmers are getting per acre is 300kgs.
This has meant that even with 3500 farmers in Kerio, the Salawa Ginnery is proving unable to source sufficient cotton for its capacity, and for demand. The ginnery can process 5million kilograms of raw materials in six months, but the farmers at Kerio are currently supplying only a fifth of that capacity.
This has seen Salawa set a target of recruiting 6000 more farmers in other regions of the Rift Valley, including Naivasha and Western Province.
At current prices, and with a yield of 300kg an acre, farmers are earning nearly Sh20,000, offset against which are costs of around Sh5000, including the cost of 6kg of seed, which is sufficient for an acre. This leaves a return of Sh15,000 per acre.
To start the cotton project in Rift Valley a grant of over $1.3m was given in Kerio in 2009 by the Africa Enterprise Challenge Fund
In the past cotton was once the fifth largest foreign exchange earner in Kenya but dropped to a very small contribution of the GDP from mid and late 90’s. Cotton production in Kenya is still characterized by low average yield rates and poor fibre quality, global cotton production trend shows that while cotton yield in Kenya is higher than that of Pakistan, India and Africa’s average benchmark, the benchmark is much lower than those of strategic competitors such as China, Israel and Australia some of which have evolved to dyeing the cotton seeds when planting so that the yarn does not have to be dyed during processing.
Kenya exports about half of the 40,000 bales of cotton lint that was produced in 2012. In the same year, 20,000 people were employed in the Kenyan textile industry whose exports to the US under the Africa Growth Opportunity Act, worth about 21 billion.