Just recently, the government of Kenya is banking on the mass production of biotech (or genetically modified) cotton plants to provide about 50,000 jobs to its citizens. Such bold action is part of current President Uhuru Kenyatta’s economic revival plan. Aside from that, the plan also covers the review of Kenya’s other policies and the generation of new incentive schemes. Furthermore, this plan also includes the generation of about Sh20 billion (Kenya’s currency is known as Shiling) and creations of more than 10,000 jobs in the apparel sector.
The plan will begin with the training of 50,000 women and youth to employ in the production of biotech cotton. At the end of this year, the Kenyan government projects that the agricultural land under cotton will increase to 200,000 hectares from its current acreage of just about 29,000.
The rise and decline of cotton production in Kenya
Interestingly, some people believe that it is quite conflicting for the Kenyan government to import biotech cotton from other countries like China, India, and South Africa when in fact they have a huge potential to locally produce cotton plants. Back in the early 20th century, Kenya was thought to be very promising for growing cotton.
However, official data now shows that Kenya has been underperforming lately in the cotton industry and this has exposed them to the volatility of the international market as it implies the need to import various products for consumption and generation of exports.
What could have happened? Some people think that it was due to the industry’s poor performance on high production costs, and weak farmer organizations. According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS), for the past two years, the country has spent around Sh48.24 on imported textile products. These products included different types of clothing, textile fiber, and secondhand clothes.
Biotech cotton investments
The variety of cotton plant that will be cultivated is the Bt cotton. The ‘Bt’ stands for the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringensis which is known to bear the Bt gene that is toxic to insects. Through genetic engineering, this variety of cotton plant is highly resistant to the bollworm, a major pest of the plant. Aside from that, it is also able to withstand tremendous levels of heat in the atmosphere and stay fine even in drought.
Also, this biotech cotton variety is very appealing to pollinators like bees, which come to extract nectar when the plant is undergoing flowering phase. In return, these bees supply honey to the cotton farmers. Along with this, the cotton genome is also inserted with a gene for high yield. Hence, with such genetically modified characteristics, this variety is called as the HYPR (High Yielding Pest Resistant) cotton crop.
Generally, biotech or genetically modified organisms are prohibited in Kenya, the National Biosafety Authority approved the field trials of these biotech cotton last year. Many analysts believe that the fact that the government is investing in this kind of biotechnology reflects the possibility of the State approving its open cultivation in the future.