NAIROBI, July 19 (Xinhua) -- Julius Njeru has been farming cotton for more than five decades in Kambimbi village in eastern Kenya.
Njeru who is now 72 years old remembers that growing cotton then was a booming business as farmers reaped benefits from the crops.
"I educated all my six children and still managed all my financial needs with proceeds I got from cotton," Njeru told Xinhua at his farm during a field visit on Thursday.
Njeru noted that during the time, there were 6,000 cotton farmers in the area, while today there are less than 10.
At that time, the pesticides were cheap and effective while the only ginnery in the region, the Mwea Ginnery Ltd., was roaring to business and producing tons of lint.
But according to Njeru, all this is history now since the collapse of the cotton sector in the country in 1990s.
"Cotton production has remained below expected standards with the mushrooming pest infestation and high cost of pesticides," he added.
Njeru and other farmers in the region are calling on Kenyan government to help revive the sector to enable them to improve their lives as well as boost the country's economy.
"We harvest poorly because there is no incentive for us like is happening in other crops," said Purity Mugo, a farmer in Mathiga, eastern Kenya.
Mugo challenged the government to support farmers with certified seeds and loans that could enable them to reap maximum profits from the industry as well as help revitalize production and boost the textile industry in the country.
Jackton Odongo from Catholic Peace and Justice Commission urged the government to help farmers solve challenges to live better lives.
"Our farmers are suffering from poor losses caused by pests, diseases and lack of incentives," Odongo said in an interview.
Charles Waturu Nderito, director of Horticulture Research Institute under Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization and also principal investigator of Bt cotton project, said that Kenya currently produces 10,000 bales of lint annually while domestic market demand is 140,000 bales.
"Severe pest and disease infestations jeopardize Kenya's future prospects of producing large tons of cotton," he added.
Nderito noted that a combination of attack by African bollworms and jassids are causing heavy losses in cotton yields due to lack of resistance in the local varieties.
As a result, Kenya's cotton exports are almost negligible and imports from neighboring countries supplement the country's domestic industrial requirements.
"Bt Cotton has the potential to revive the prospects for increased cotton production thus enhancing livelihoods once it is approved by the government," he said.
Kenya is planning to start commercial growing of Bt cotton, or genetically modified (GM) cotton soon.
Nderito said that to revive cotton growing, there is need to use seed with resistance to African bollworm and other related pests, to use good quality seed to mitigate the problem of jassids attack and cotton leaf curl virus disease, to educate farmers on good crops, and to ensure farmers use recommended pesticides.
Cotton can potentially be grown in 24 counties in arid and semi-arid lands in Kenya with a potential of supporting 200,000 smallholder farmers yet only 30,000 farmers are currently farming cotton.
Currently Kenya produces 572 kilograms of cotton per hectare while the potential target is 2,500 kilograms per hectare. Enditem