Cotton was once referred to as white gold in Western parts of Kenya where it was grown by many farmers. In the year 1985, national cotton production hit an all-time peak of 14,000 MT. This was however not to Kenya’s full production potential which is now estimated at 50,000 MT when some 350,000 ha of the country’s land is put under cotton growing. Production of cotton in Kenya has continued to fall for reasons such as liberalization of the sector and withdrawal of government from the provision of credit facilities, farm, and industrial inputs. The collapse of cotton prices both locally and in global markets has also led to thousands of cotton growers abandoning the crop.
Cotton ginneries play a key role in the value chain of cotton production. In Kenya, many farmers are far away from ginning companies resulting in the use of middlemen to collect cotton from farms for sale at the ginnery. Other ginning companies that had been established in the 60s and 70s collapsed due to political interference in the cotton sector and a fall in cotton production. Cotton farming in this decade and coming ones need to be re-organized through the union of farmers in cooperative movements and their cooperation with county governments to fix weaknesses in the value chain.
While a good number of counties in Western, Nyanza, Rift Valley, Eastern, and Coast regions form the cotton growing districts of Kenya, it is imperative to note that prices across all these zones are not good for the farmer. According to a study by Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (rebranded to KALRO); profit margins per hectare of cotton range from Kes.1,614 to Kes.12,520 with a buying price of Kes.20 to Kes.25 per Kg of cotton. This to a farmer with other options such as growing maize as a food crop appears to be a zero-sum game thus growing cotton becoming unattractive. The Ministry of Agriculture and the Cotton Development Authority (CODA) has a role to play in de-risking cotton production through extension services such as offering technical packages for pest control, mobilizing markets locally and abroad, mobilizing funding, and implementing integrated crop management strategies that have been crafted through research and previous practice of cotton production. Kenya can bank on cotton as a major cash crop that has the potential to revive the textile sector as well as other service sectors that fall in its value chain.