Kenya’s cotton production is set to increase six-fold by 2012, after the country adopts biotech cotton (Bt cotton). The country awaits the Biosafety Act whose regulations are to be gazetted later this month, before Bt cotton can be produced on large scale. Among other things, the law will allow the commercialisation of GM cotton. Kenya will become the third country to grow biotech cotton on the continent after South Africa and Burkina Faso, and the first to commercialise it in Central and East Africa.
According to Charles Waturu, centre director, at the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute — Thika, this will step up cotton production from 50,000 bales per year to 300,000 bales and meet the country’s cotton deficit. “Unless a stumbling block emerges, we are ready for commercialisation,” said Dr Waturu. Already, the taskforce formed to spearheaded the commercialisation of GM cotton have proposed that 100,000 acres be set aside to kickstart the project.
Since 2004, Kari has been conducting research on the safety of Bt cotton. Although it is yet to be commercialised, Bt cotton has been consumed silently with no side effects reported. “Secondhand imported clothes are made from GM cotton, which shows it has been in use for a long time,” said Lusike Wasilwa, Kari’s deputy director.
Bt cotton produces an insecticidal protein from the naturally occurring soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) making it insect resistant. This reduces the cost of production for farmers, as no pesticides are required. Common pests afflicting cotton include aphids, jassids, white flies, bollworms and bugs. Currently, Dr Waturu says, over 30 per cent of the total cotton production costs goes towards pest control. Other benefits of growing Bt cotton include higher yields leading to better incomes for farmers, less labour input requirements, low exposure to dangerous chemicals, reduced water and environmental pollution as well as an increase on total acreage.
The Africa Biotechnology Stakeholders Forum’s senior programmes officer, Felix M’mboyi, said the institution was ready to conduct open field trials with other GM crops, including maize later this year.
Story via East Africa