Farmers from the Semi-arid Mbeere region in Embu County have embraced BT Cotton a genetically modified variety despite the discussions propagated by anti-GMO Proponents.The farmers said that some NGOs had warned them of health hazards that included paralyzes on their hands after harvesting.
A farmer from Kanyuambora village, Joseph Nyaga, observed that he has been doing the BT Variety for three years now and has not encountered any problems. “My experience with the BT Cotton variety is its high yields triple production and with less labour as compared to the normal variety that I did for five years,”The 44-year-old, a father of three says he has been able to educate his children with cotton farming and is now building a permanent house through the increased income from GMO Cotton variety.
He noted that he plants one and a half kilograms per acre as compared to six and eight kilograms of normal cotton. “On harvesting, we do it twice in March and July but if we had water we can even do two seasons which would mean we will harvest four times a year”.For 60 year old Runji Karinge a father of six children, cotton farming has uplifted his living Standards where he noted poor rainfall patterns are not favourable to other crops.
The BT Cotton farming in Mbeere has attracted farmers and stakeholders from various parts of the globe with four parliamentary committees visiting the cotton farms on a fact-finding mission as it pertains to GMOs.Speaking during a visit, Biotechnology and Biosafety expert from ISAAA Africenter Dr. Paul Chege said the data that is available globally and research statements from WHO, FAO, and European Union have confirmed that GMO-derived crops are safe.
“BT Cotton is safe and has been grown for 30yrs now without any health concerns. The Variety grown in Mbeere is a hybrid that has a pest-resistant gene which makes it resistant to cotton ball worms that used to cause even 100 percent destruction to non-GMO cotton”, Dr. Chege said.
Dr. Chege further observed that farmers are encouraged to spray twice as compared to normal varieties that would require to be sprayed 12 times.He further observed that only 36 percent of BT Cotton is used for the textile industry while the rest is used for other products like animal feeds and cooking oils
Members of Parliament from the departmental committees of Agriculture, health, trade, and delegated legislation who visited the farm were optimistic that GMOs will help farmers reap more benefits.The National Assembly Vice Chair of Trade, investment, and Cooperatives Maryann Keitany challenged Biosafety and Biotechnology experts to offer much-needed information on GMOs.
She observed that people opposed to biotechnology were doing so without any evidence adding that their tour had revealed that Kenyan Farmers can do wonders in the Agricultural sector.”Most cotton used for textile at the Export Promotion Zone is 100 percent imported when we have farmers who can produce enough cotton if supported. We need to reverse this such that when we say made in Kenya it is made for Sure,” Ms Keitany noted.
She urged the County governments to up their game by providing extension officers who will help farmers achieve maximum production. “Farmers are currently one ton per acre but Experts say one acre can produce a maximum of seven tonnes”.Matayos MP Geoffrey Odanga observed that the government needs to be firm to protect local farmers against imports. “As legislators, we will amend the law to protect cotton farmers to avoid what happened when Rivatex and other textile industries were hijacked by cartels”.
He added that the new law will ensure that any importation of cotton will only be done to fill the gap adding that the government should put more funding to the research sector that is currently underfunded.”We also encourage farmers to embrace BT Cotton as we revive ginneries and encourage more investors.