Cotton farmers in Busia County are optimistic after the government injected 66 million shillings into restarting the Mulwanda cotton mill, which collapsed 20 years ago.
Construction is underway at the ginning plant, which is nearly 90 percent complete.
An earlier inspection visit to the factory by the principal secretary of the cooperatives, Ali Noor Ismail, revealed that the ginning factory was viable.
“The PS asked the farmers to write a proposal to revive the plant after its inspection tour,” said Vincent Egesa, chairman of the board of Mulwanda Cotton Ginnery.
Egesa said he drew up a proposal asking for 30 million shillings and forwarded it to the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Cooperatives.
“It was approved after a month, and the award was factored into the 2019/20 fiscal year,” he said.
Egesa said the money was used to buy new cotton ginning machines, which were installed.
“The first phase which cost 30 million Sh is over. The second phase is underway. We got another Sh 36 million grant from the national government. The procurement process is ongoing, ”said Egesa.
The government’s decision to relaunch the ginning plant has excited local farmers, who are already embarking on cotton cultivation, which they abandoned decades ago.
Francis Opailo, a farmer from Apegei village in Teso, said they were determined to grow cotton as a cash crop.
Like other farmers in the area, the 58-year-old man sprays his cotton crop at least three times in four months to kill pests and disease.
On the day of this visit, a group of men were busy watering the vast farm despite the drizzle.
“We need to spray our cotton plantations once a month to kill pests and suppress disease,” Opailo said.
“Farmers were making huge losses which caused us to stop growing cotton, which led to the collapse of our ginning factories about 20 years ago. Farmers did not have the knowledge and skills to grow cotton, ”he said.
According to Opailo, Busia County has good soils for growing high quality cotton.
“In 2019, the government encouraged us to return to cotton cultivation after the introduction of BT cotton, a new early maturing variety that guarantees high yields, is resistant to drought and certain diseases and pests,” said declared Opailo.
BT cotton is a genetically modified organism (GMO) or pest resistant genetically modified cotton variety, which produces an insecticide to control bollworm.
According to Opailo, BT cotton gave high yields during the first phase of its pilot program in 2019. “Yields were better than what the KSL cotton variety would give us.”
Opailo planted BT cotton on an eight-acre demonstration plot and harvested 94 kilograms of cottonseed.
This year, his five-acre plot is under cotton. “I expect a bumper harvest in December,” he said.
Farmers claim that BT cotton is different from the old varieties which produced 15-20 bolls.
“Under good management, BT cotton can produce between 110 and 140 bolls per tree in four months, unlike the older variety which would take six months to mature,” Opailo said.
He said one acre of BT cotton would give a farmer 400-600 kilograms of cottonseed.
“I expect to harvest between 2,250 and 2,500 kilos, with estimated yields of 120,000 Sh, as a kilo is worth 50 Sh,” he said.
Silas Omuyokiti, another BT cotton producer, said the availability of a market for their products encouraged them to work harder.
“We sell our cotton directly from the farm and get paid instantly based on the weight of the product,” he said.
Omuyokiti said in the past, payments were not made quickly despite deliveries from farmers to local factories.
“The late payments have resulted in huge losses for farmers, and some have become insolvent,” he said.
“Cotton is a cash crop that would guarantee a farmer instant wealth. It can be planted three times a year because its ripening period is shorter than that of sugar cane which takes 18 to 24 months on farms. ”
The 59-year-old farmer thinks BT cotton could be a godsend. “This will go a long way in transforming the region’s economy as many farmers embrace this crop.”
Omuyokiti said that part of the reason for the failure of cotton cultivation in the 1980s in Busia was low prices.
“The cost of production was high, but the income was low. This has discouraged many farmers who have abandoned cotton for other crops, including sugar cane, beans, cassava, sorghum, finger millet and maize, ”he said.
Omukoyiti grows cotton on his 10-acre plot in Teso South sub-county.
Nelly Nasimiyu, originally from Funyula sub-county, plants the hybrid cotton variety and claims that it has the same characteristics as BT cotton.
“There is not much difference between the hybrid variety and BT cotton as both take the same time to mature. Yields vary between 90 and 130 capsules per stem, ”she said.
Egesa said the revived mill is served by seven cooperative societies. They include Matayos, Busia, Olima, Bukiri, Bwiri, Namasali and old Bunyala, which have at least 20,000 farmers.
He said they will be required to bring more farmers on board for the project to be sustainable. “We need at least 90,000 farmers.
More cotton could come from Homa Bay County, which is poised to supply at least 800 tonnes of bales per year, according to Egesa.
“Our call is on the government to revive and get the other collapsed gin factories to make cooking oil from cottonseed, animal feed and soap, and let Mulwanda specialize. in textile products, ”he said.
Earlier, Cabinet Secretary for Agriculture Peter Munya said Kenya had joined Sudan, Malawi, South Africa, Ethiopia, Algeria and Eswatini, where BT cotton is grown. in abundance.
In 2018, Kenya produced 10,000 tonnes of bales against a demand of 140,000 tonnes, forcing the country to import additional raw materials from Uganda and Ethiopia.
Data from the Agriculture and Food Authority (AFA) shows that cotton production in Kenya increased by 16%, from 3,015 tonnes in 2019 to 3,495 tonnes last year, despite a 45% drop in production. cultivated area.