The remnants of the once vibrant Busia’s ginneries tell a story of a dying industry: Disused machines, tall grass, rusty gates and bored security guards patrolling the premises.
But locals say cotton industry is not dead yet.
A visit to the area reveals that the once vibrant cotton industry is begging for revival and its success may as well reverse the fortunes of local folk.
The sad story of the decline of the industry begun in the early 1990s after the influx of cheap textile products which came in through the border points.
These imports slowly ate into the market that local producers relied on.
Today, all the four cotton ginneries in the region – Luanda (Samia Sub-County), Nambale (Nambale), Amukura (Teso South) and Malakisi (Teso North) are not exactly out of breath.
But they are operating at their lowest output ever, having been relegated to only buying the little and available cotton from farmers who care to grow the crop.
Six years ago, an idea was floated to have them brought back to life.
Their revival has not gone as promised by Governor Sospeter Ojaamong who had pledged to farmers that his government would work round the clock to see the industry back on its feet.
The Luanda ginnery, which remains intact despite being inactive for close to three decades was to be revived at a cost of Sh43 million. It was supposed to be the first to be revived and was allocated Sh43 million. But it is yet to get off the ground.
The Funyula-based factory used to be the highest producer of lint with a gin capacity of seven bales per day during its good times.
When we met Vincent Egesa, the Luanda Farmers’ Cooperative Union Chairman, he spoke of it with nostalgia, reminiscing how the factory was the lifeblood of locals.
But then he admitted it may never rise again unless there is total revamp of the sector.
“Our woes began after the liberalisation of the industry in the early 90s when importation of second-hand clothes was given the green light,” he said, his voice trembling.
“This led to the collapse of cotton lint and the seed market board. We were forced to lease the ginnery to Indians who were selling cotton to other factories such as Salawa in Nakuru and Nyanza Ginners in Kisumu.”
As the Kenyan government sought integration and looked for markets in the US for its locally manufactured products, it had to make trade-ins.
For example, once it subscribed to the US's African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa), some of the demands were that it had to allow continued flow of second-hand clothes in exchange for these markets. That slowly killed local textile industries.
Then came the Chinese with their cheaper clothes.
Manufactured at a fraction cost of the local textiles, people simply adopted the imported clothes, leaving local factories struggling.
This factory has not run since 2007 but farmers are still embracing cotton farming.
“This is a buying season and we have bought over ten tonnes of the same available in our stores,” said Mr Egesa.
The union had seven affiliate societies namely Busia, Matayos, Bukiri, Bwiri, Olima, Old Bunyala and Nyamasaria with a membership of over 40,000 farmers.
Today, officials estimate there could be around 3,000 individual farmers or less.
The ginnery boasted of the best equipment in East and Central Africa and a visit by the Nation recently revealed that most of the processing machines are still intact with a new electric system already installed.
Most of the ginneries in the region have remained as mere cotton stores.
He said the ginnery only needs minimal repairs and servicing to have it back in operation.
“We had high expectations when the county government announced plans to revive the ginnery five years ago but it seems everything has stalled. Some farmers who embraced cotton farming following the assurances are fast losing hope.
“There was time we were even allocated Sh43 million but to date the money has never reached our accounts. In 2016 we entered into an agreement with the county government where the MoU would see us given a Sh4m loan. The government was then to repair the machines while we buy cotton, gin and sell lint and later repay the loan,” he said.
However, while the union proceeded to buy cotton, the county government failed to carry out repairs subjecting the union to losses.
“The county government has contributed to the collapse of the cotton industry in the county. We went ahead to lease the ginnery once again with at least five gins repaired but again the same government stopped the process till to date,” he added.
The union’s secretary David Ogea urged the national government to intervene by coming up with policies which will help the industry rise again.
“We cannot access other loans because our operations are minimal. Revival of this ginnery will open doors to many opportunities since farmers would be able to grow and sell cotton more easily,” he said.
A similar situation is faced by the Nambale ginnery, one of the oldest and which is under the Nambale Farmers’ Cooperative Union.
Peter Ndukhu, the manager of the union said stringent measures are needed to see full revival of the industry.
“At the moment we don’t have ginning capacity. This is the reason why we are linking or rather selling cotton to private companies. We need Sh29 million to resuscitate the ginnery in the region. Cotton has many end products including fibre used for making clothes.
“We also have cooking oil, soap and cattle cake which we can produce. Many don’t know that 90 per cent of raw material used in money printing plants is made up of cotton.”
APPEAL FOR HELP
He appealed to both levels of government to help the factories with modern gin stands.
“We have a capacity of processing at least 56,000 metric tonnes of cotton. Cotton development has gone down because we have very few field officers to help farmers,” he added.
The Union had seven societies Amukura, Obekai, Adungosi, Angorom, Nambale, Bugeng’i and Bulwani with a membership of over 90,000, a figure that has dropped to less than six thousand.
At the moment it has only five tonnes of cotton in stock.
Many farmers have been seeking markets in Uganda and Tanzania.
Funyula MP Wilberforce Mudenyo said the ginnery could boost the region’s economy and employ over 200 people.
“We have held discussions with cotton farmers in the region and laid down a road map to revive the industry with the help of the two levels of government. The national government is in agreement that Busia has the biggest potential for cotton farming in the country.
“Manufacturing is one of the main economic activities the government is aiming to invest heavily in to help raise the GDP from 9 percent to 15 percent. We also have agro-processing and value addition which will be the main agenda moving ahead,” he said.
The legislator called on the government to ensure it regulates the entry of raw materials used in the textile industry especially in the Export Processing Zones (EPZ).
During his tour of the region in 2016, President Uhuru Kenyatta reassured farmers that his government was keen on reviving the industry.
The cotton industry is expected to be one of the pillars of the country’s Vision 2030 development blue print.
In the blue print, which covers 2008 to 2030, Kenya expects to achieve industrial growth if sectors like cotton and others will have been revived.