Bt-cotton, according to Researchers at Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Institute (KALRO) is any variety of cotton, genetically enhanced with Bt-genes to protect it against caterpillar pests, especially the African bollworm -the most destructive pest in cotton crops.

Dr. Nderitu streses that Bt-cotton is harmful to humans and animals.

Dr Charles Nderitu Waturu is the Institute Director, KALRO- Thika, “Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) is a beneficial bacteria that occurs naturally in the soil. It has been used commercially for more than 30 years to control vegetable caterpillars through biochemical insecticides such as Dipel®, Xentari® and Thuricide®.

According to Dr. Nderitu, it (Bt-cotton) reduces use of insecticides from 12 to about three sprays per season hence lowering the cost of production, enhancing populations of natural insect enemies such as ladybirds, and allowing beneficial insects like bees and butterflies to flourish in the cotton crop.“Further, it minimises human and animal exposure to toxic insecticides.”

He demystifies the misconception that Bt-cotton is harmful to humans and animals.

“It has been tested and certified to have no adverse effects on human and animal health. Bt-cotton lint is similar to conventional cotton lint and garments produced from it are safe to wear. Even Oil produced from Bt-cotton seed is similar to that from conventional cotton and contains no harmful protein to humans or livestock.  Even seedcake for cattle produced from Bt-cotton is also similar to that produced from conventional cotton,” Dr. Nderitu

Although Bt-cotton is a variety producing higher yields compared to other cotton varieties, any variety can be transformed into Bt-cotton after the Bt-gene is incorporated hence the yield and quality are not affected.

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The Researcher also dismisses the misapprehension that introduction of Bt-cotton seed would lead to monopoly of seed ownership by a few companies.

“In every liberalised market, any seed merchant can competitively develop and supply certified seed.”

The Directorate of Fibre Crops (DoFC)  is staking main steps has to regulate, promote and develops fibre crops in the country.

“Formerly, we were known as the Cotton Development Authority. Some of the steps taken to revive the sector include increasing cotton productivity through reviving Bura, Hola, (Kerio Valley Development Authority) KVDA and Garbatula, Isiolo irrigation schemes, provision of certified seeds, introduction of high-yielding cotton varieties after the national performance trials on six high-yielding varieties (two from Bayer East Africa, two from Quton-Zimbabwe and two from Amiran), with one hybrid from Amiran (Ha211 Kenya) already approved for semi-commercialisation.

The country  has a potential to produce 260,000 bales of cotton annually but currently, our production stands at 28,000, as we get about 572Kg hectare against a potential of 2,500kg hectare.

While the available land for cotton growing is 400,000 hectares, only about 29,000 is being utilised.

“We have a ginning capacity of 140,000 bales, with a production of only 28,000, only 31 per cent of that capacity is harnessed,” Dr.Nderitu. Farmers have to contend with low research extension linkages, poor markets and pricing, bad management of ginneries, high cost of inputs, and lack of strong producer associations and importation of second-hand clothes (mitumba), which reduces demand for locally made cotton garments.

Then there is mismanagement of farmers’ co-operatives and exploitation by middlemen. The DoFC is striving to revitalise the societies through training and enforcement of standards.

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By Malachi Motano

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