A leading government agency in agricultural and livestock research has supported commercialization of Genetically Modified cotton in Kenya.
The Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) and the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) are now calling on the government to listen to science and save the country from importing cotton from other continents.
“Kenya has the potential of reaping maximum benefit from cotton growing since the arid and semi arid lands that is 80 percent of landmass is conducive for cotton growing,” Dr. Charles Waturu, the Director of KALRO’s Horticulture Research Institute says in Nairobi at a meeting held to review the status of cotton in the country.
Dr. Waturu revealed that open and confined field trial of the crop has been done and proven researchers involved have approved the commercialization of the crop in the country.
He noted that the government development blue print includes cotton as one of the crops that are to be promoted in helping improve the economy of the country.
The country currently grows cotton in 20,000 hectares as compared to 42,000 hectares in 2013 that produces 572 kilograms and 2,500 kilograms per hectares respectively.
Farmer’s harvested 2,000 bales of cotton in 2013 yet the local industry require 140,000 bales of cotton.
According to Dr. Waturu Kenya’s low harvest is blamed on pests that can be solved by the GM cotton variety.
“GM cotton is sprayed three times as opposed to the conventional ones that are sprayed 12 times before harvest,’ he added.
Dr. Margaret Karembu, ISAAA Director for Africenter said that the government must realize that the negative sentiments against GM crops are not science based.
She said that while the government delays in adopting the technology, countries like Sudan, Burkina Faso and South Africa are already growing the crop in large acreage.
“Developing countries have fallen into the position of people who are opposed to the technology yet Europe enjoys the mass production of medicine through the technology,” Karembu noted.
She observed that the country has qualified experts that should be engaged to enable farmers reap benefits that includes job creation for the jobless youths.
The Chief Executive of Agriculture in Busia, Western Kenya Dr. Moses Mwanje disclosed that the collapsed of the cotton growing led to loss of jobs since five ginneries were shut down.
Dr. Mwanje said that cotton industry is in a position of empowering farmers in Western Kenya who have no cash crop economically.
“Cotton has been the main cash crop in the region but the collapsed led to joblessness and closure of several ventures that relied in the industry for survival,” Dr Mwanje said.
The National Biosafety Authority (NBA) has unveiled to the public the intention to commercialize GM cotton in the country and is calling on people to give their views.
The application that was done by KALRO is undergoing science review process by the NBA and the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS) t ascertain that the proposed products are safe to human and animal health and the environment.
The reviewers are looking at nutritional composition, toxicity, allergenicity, invasiveness, horizontal gene transfers and impact on non target organisms.
Globally GM cotton is planted in 25.1 million hectares, which is 68 percent of the 37 million hectares of global cotton.
Besides cotton, Kenya, that has developed national policy, legislation and guidelines for handling GM crops has also made advance in insect resistant maize research that is also expected to be unveiled for commercialization in the country once approved.
KALRO researchers are currently conducting trials for virus resistant cassava and sweet potatoes.