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Web Exclusive | May 2018

To go for GM cotton or not is Kenya’s question!

Kenya’s cotton sector is generally characterised by about 140,000 smallholder farmers with a low average yield

of 0.53 tonnes of seed cotton per hectare, according to the World Bank.

• Kenya’s cotton sector is generally characterised by about 140,000 smallholder farmers with a low average

yield of 0.53 tonnes of seed cotton per hectare, according to the World Bank.

• The average production of 18,000 tonnes per year over the period 2005-2010 represents a mere 9 per cent of

the country’s potential.

• Kenya is at crossroads on whether to allow GM cotton or not. It would, therefore, be incisive to draw

parallels with the experiences of Burkinabe and Indian small-scale farmers who have already commercialised it.

• Consequently, cotton should in fact be viewed as a food and feed crop and the government must ensure that

consumer safety is prioritised before any consideration of commercialisation of genetically modified cotton.

Cotton is mainly grown for its fibre, which accounts for about 35 per cent weight of the primary product known

as seed cotton. The seed is the main by-product, which accounts for about 65 per cent. The seed is then used to

produce four main products namely cotton seed oil, cake, and hulls for livestock feeds, and linters used for

other products as film, plastics. Kenya’s cotton sector is generally characterised by about 140,000 smallholder

farmers with a low average yield of 0.53 tonnes of seed cotton per hectare, according to the World Bank. The

average production of 18,000 tonnes per year over the period 2005-2010 represents a mere 9 per cent of the

country’s potential.

Amongst the key challenges faced by the sector are poor agronomic practices, inadequate extension services,

high cost, and poor quality seed. The pest pressure of the African cotton bollworm is not mentioned as a key

challenge because Bt cotton has been developed targeting this pest. In terms of regulation, conditional release

has been granted for (GM) Bt cotton to Kenya Agricultural Livestock Research Organisation (Kalro) and Monsanto

by National Biosafety Authority (NBA).

However, an environmental impact assessment report is still pending from the National Environmental Management

Authority. Kenya is at crossroads on whether to allow GM cotton or not. It would, therefore, be incisive to

draw parallels with the experiences of Burkinabe and Indian small-scale farmers who have already commercialised

it. Bt cotton was claimed to be resistant to the most common pest of cotton in India, the pink bollworm. In

2006, just four years after its release by Monsanto, the pink bollworm had become resistant to it in Western

India. Rapid development of resistance occurs because Bt cotton plants are engineered to continuously release

toxins, and this constant, long term exposure encourages the survival of any pests that are genetically

resistant to the toxin.

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