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Crop Biotech Update

Kenya's Agricultural Reforms Set to Bolster Bt Cotton Commercialization

April 14, 2021

Radical reforms in Kenya's agricultural sector are set to inject fresh impetus to Bt cotton farming in the country, should a fibre crops legislative Bill pass into law. The Government shall be mandated to promote and market fibre crops and products locally and internationally, a development that will invigorate Bt cotton production.

The Bill, technically referred to as Fibre Crops Development Authority Bill, seeks to provide for the development, regulation, and promotion of cotton and sisal industries. This is expected to introduce focus and clarity in the management of the cotton value-chain as the Government banks on Bt cotton to revitalize the textile and apparel industry by increasing the crop production from the current 20,000 bales to 200,000 bales by 2022. Speaking during a virtual consultative meeting on Bt cotton with Kenya's cotton value chain players, Solomon Odera, the Head of the country's Fibre Crops Directorate, exuded confidence that once the Bill becomes law, cotton farmers will enjoy protection from exploitation through price fluctuation.

"The Bill will establish a development levy which will be used in financing various activities within the value chain of both cotton and sisal," said Odera. "It is worth noting that one of the areas that the levy will help finance is the creation of a stabilization fund that will manage price volatility within the cotton sub-sector," he added.

Bhagirath Choudhary of South Asia Biotech Center shared India's impressive Bt cotton socio-economic impacts with the Kenyan stakeholders and emphasized the importance of strengthening the value chain to reap full benefits including by-products. "India produced and consumed a staggering ~20.8 million tons of Bt cottonseed oil from 2002-03 to 2019-20, turning the country from a sole importer to a lead exporter of edible oils. Approximately 1.5 million tons of cottonseed oil is produced annually, making cottonseed oil the number one vegetable oil produced from secondary sources. Cottonseed oil is trans-fat free, contains no cholesterol, and can play a role in reducing saturated fat intake," he said. He also revealed that cottonseed is a major source of protein, as its by-product, the oil cake, contains a high-quality protein (23%) – a necessary ingredient for animal feed. This makes cotton de-oiled cake or meals the preferred feed for cattle and buffaloes in the country.

Kenya is currently rolling out commercial farming of Bt cotton with farmers in cotton-growing counties in eastern and western Kenya having already planted the GM crop. During the 2020's October-November season, farmers in ten cotton-growing counties in the eastern region planted 16.3 metric tons of Bt cotton on 10,000 acres (4,047 hectares). Cultivation of Bt cotton was launched in the country in March 2020 starting with the planting of on-farm demonstration plots around the country. 

For more information about biotechnology in Africa, send a message to mkarembu@isaaa.org.

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