Kenya is rolling out field trials for genetically modified cotton in nine research stations – as it prepares to finally embrace the commercial farming of Bt-Cotton.
Already the regulatory body, National Environment Management Authority (NEMA, has given stakeholders 30 days to submit oral or written submissions in order to make a decision.
The Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (Karlo) has applied to be allowed to carry out National Performance Trials on stations sites in Mwea, Katumani, Kampi ya Mawe, Bura, Perkera, Kibos, Alupe, Kerio Valley and Matuga.
In a public notice published on March 14, 2018, NEMA said it had received the Environmental Impact Assesment Study report for national bt-cotton trials in nine stations.
Although Kenya has a potential to produce 260,000 bales of cotton annually, its current production stands at 28,000. It only produces 572kg/hectare against a potential of 2,500kg/hectare.
In a previous interview, the Director of the Thika based Horticultural Research Institute and lead Researcher Dr Charles Waturu, said the new variety will be released to farmers in dry irrigation areas for seed breeding purpose.
“This will be a pilot project and once we establish it fully, farmers in Lamu, Kwale and Kilifi can produce enough seeds, then we will later roll out the project to all other cotton producing counties ,’’ said Dr Waturu.
Bt-cotton is any variety of cotton, genetically enhanced with Bt-genes to protect it against caterpillar pests, especially the African bollworm, which is the most destructive pest in cotton crops. 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®.
Already the National Performance Trials of the BT cotton have been undertaken at Kimbimbi Research center in 2002 where the plant did so well with bottom to top yields but is yet to go commercial.
The researcher said it was prevalent that the new cotton variety also attracted many bees which came to extract nectar during the flowering stage and in return provide high quality honey to the farmers.
Dr. Charles Waturu said the trials showed that transgenic cotton effectively controlled populations of African bollworm and had no significant effect on non-target pest species. “Growing Bt cotton will significantly reduce the amount of insecticides used by Kenyan farmers, from 12 to about three sprays per season, thus reducing cost of production and increasing income from cotton farming,” he pointed out.
Agric firm Monsanto is assuring problems that have emerged with Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) cotton seeds in Burkina Faso leading to its withdrawal will not be repeated in other parts of Africa.
The closure was necessitated by Burkina Faso’s decision to phase out of the production of GMO cotton over concerns about poor quality of fibre from the novel variety.
Nigeria and Malawi are also working on introducing GMO cotton cultivars in both countries.
Monsanto says the right lessons have been learnt and this will inform how future projects are rolled out to avoid similar difficulties.
More than 90 percent of current GM crops in the world are grown by smallholder farmers the same type of farmers where over 200,000 smallholder farmers dominate cotton production in Kenya. Pundits say that if Bt cotton was cultivated in Kenya, most of the benefits would go to these poor smallerholder farmers and make a substantial impact in poverty reduction.