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.

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