Cotton farmers in Lamu County have appealed to the National Government to subsidize farm inputs to enable them to sustain the cultivation of the crop in the country.
This comes in the wake of renewed efforts by the county government to revive the sector after cotton farmers were issued with free hybrid seeds to boost production.
The new variety is said to produce 800 kilos per acre compared to 250 kilos per acre farmers reaped from the traditional seeds.
Last year, cotton farmers were able to earn Kshs. 48, 000 per acre from the crop, though they stated that their margins were mostly taken up by farm inputs and other overhead costs.
According to Peter Ndirangu, a farmer with 10 acres, cotton farmers have in the past been discouraged from cultivating the crop by among other high cost of farm inputs such as fertilizer and pesticides and poor farm gate prices they are subjected to.
“We are seeking the National Government’s intervention in providing subsidies on fertilizers and pesticides which in the long run tend to thin our profit margins,” said Ndirangu.
He went on, “As much as we appreciate the provision of hybrid seeds by the county government, a lot more needs to be done by way of policy and the provision of subsidies to ensure that cotton farming does not die in Lamu.”
According to statistics, cotton farmers in Lamu County account for less than 35% of the country’s entire production.
In 2020 the county produced 800,000 kilograms of cotton against a target of 3 metric tonnes, which is attributed to punitive production cost.
Kenya is estimated to be producing 17,000 bales of cotton annually.
“As things stand, we do not have a cotton growers association in the country that could help address issues afflicting farmers and the sector in general,” Mwangi Migwi, a 5 acre cotton farmer opines.
Migwi further notes that strengthening existing cooperatives could aid the farmers in greater organization and mobilization of resources towards improving farming and harvesting methods which he adds would aid in maximizing crop yields.
“Providing farmers with the C-567 cotton hybrid seed went towards some way in motivating the farmers to redouble their efforts to grow cotton which has been the backbone in Mpeketoni town’s growth in the past,” Lamu Deputy Governor Abdulhakim Mbwana states.
At its peak during the 1980s and early 1990s, cotton farming in Lamu’s Mpeketoni area accounted for at least 1.4 metric tonnes according to the deputy governor who also doubles as the County CEC for Agriculture.
He further reveals that with an improved cotton farming sector, the crop could easily account for 20% of the county’s economy with revenues of as high as Kshs. 200 million achieved.
“Last year, with the provision of the free hybrid seeds, the 3,000 cotton farmers earned Kshs. 48 million,” adds Mbwana.
Lamu Cotton Seeds Association chairman James Kariuki contends that apart from reduced subsidies, farmers also needed better gate prices on the crop.
“The farmers are in dire need of better pricing on the harvested crop in order to keep them motivated to keep planting the crop,” Kariuki says.
While issuing the new cotton variety, Thika Clothing Mills Limited Managing Director Tejal Dodhia commended the county’s efforts in trying to revive the sector.
“The ginnery could come about as a Public Private Sector Partnership in which both the county government and private stakeholders, chiefly the cooperatives collaborate in building a ginnery that would be a convenience for the farmers,” said Dodhia.
Tejal however expresses optimism over the future of cotton farming in Lamu, revealing that her company would be buying cotton directly from the farmers at Kshs. 50 per kilo an improvement from the paltry Kshs. 38 per kilo they have been receiving in recent years.
“Production of cotton in Lamu will no doubt increase with the introduction of the Kshs. 50 per kilo gate price,” she stated, reiterating the need by the county and national governments to collaborate in increasing support towards sustenance of the crop.
The Thika Clothing Mills MD further stated that with improved crop harvest, the manufacturer would not have to import cotton from Uganda and Tanzania, noting the huge potential the sector has despite the lack of subsidies.
According Agriculture and Food Authority (AFA) the National Government in its efforts to improve the sector set aside Kshs. 140 million in the national budget aimed at improving pesticide, hybrid seed research and cotton farming development.