The Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology in Africa (OFAB) Kenya chapter and partners held a Bt cotton sensitization virtual meeting on 22nd July 2020. OFAB is a platform jointly run by National Commission for Science, Technology and Innovation (NACOSTI) and International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA). The meeting brought together County Communication Officers from eight (8) cotton-growing counties namely Busia, Baringo, Kisumu, Kitui, Makueni, Migori, Tharaka Nithi and Isiolo. It aimed at sensitizing participants on Bt cotton and the opportunities it presents to cotton farmers. These counties had been earmarked to spearhead commercial planting of Bt cotton approved by the President and his Cabinet on 19th December 2019. Other counties that are being targeted in the Bt cotton program include Elgeyo Marakwet, Bungoma, Embu, Homabay, Kirinyaga, Machakos, Meru, Siaya, Kwale, Taita Taveta, West Pokot and Tana River.

Kenya’s textile and apparel sector has over the last two decades seen a significant drop in production capacity and revenues with the shrinking of the cotton industry. Cotton production has remained significantly below the national demand, with the persistent decline mostly attributable to resilient crop pests, high cost of production and unstable international prices. The government approved commercial cultivation of insect-resistant Bt cotton in an effort to revive the cotton industry and revitalize the textile and apparel sector. It has been genetically engineered with a self-protecting ability against the African bollworm that causes up to 100% yield loss. With a capacity to produce 368,000 bales per year, the country is only producing on average 25,000 bales against a yearly demand of 200,000 bales with the deficit covered through imports from Uganda, Tanzania and the Far East. Demonstrations plots are underway to train farmers on Bt cotton best-agronomic practices ahead on national roll-out.

Speaking during the meeting, Dr. Roy. Mugiira – Director, Scheduled Sciences at NACOSTI, explained how this cotton variety will contribute to food security in the country, revive the cotton sector and thus contribute to the realization of the Big4 Agenda.

The meeting also addressed the following topics: The role of modern biotechnology in improving agriculture and food security in Kenya; Country capacity to conduct biosafety assessment of products developed through modern biotechnology; and Manufacturing and cotton processing capacity (a case of RIVATEX EA Ltd). It commenced with the following agreements; County communication officers committed to working closely with OFAB Kenya and other biotech partners to ensure the right information on Bt cotton and other biotech crops reach the grassroots. OFAB Kenya will further avail county communication offices with information resources (IECs) and platforms (The Drumbeat e-Newsletter) to foster information sharing at county level.