The sounds of squeaking monkeys jumping from one mango tree to another, rusting buildings, disused machines and ageing trucks welcome you to the Malakisi ginnery in Teso North, Busia County.
Officially commissioned in August 27, 1976, Malakisi – one of the oldest ginneries in Busia – tells a story of a dying industry that was part of what was once a lucrative venture for farmers in the region.
A visit to the area reveals that cotton farming is begging for revival and its success could reverse the fortunes of residents.
With four cotton ginneries, Busia County had positioned itself as a commercial hub for lint-making. But bad policies pushed the ginneries to their lowest output ever, with some completely closing shop.
The ginneries included Luanda (Samia Sub-County), Nambale (Nambale), Amukura (Teso South) and Malakisi (Teso North), with a membership of more than 150,000 farmers.
Malakisi and Luanda are not exactly out of breath, but have been relegated to only buying the little cotton from the few farmers who still care enough to grow the crop.
Mr Wycliffe Opili, the Malaba-Malakisi Cooperative Union manager, tells the Nation that liberalisation of the textile industries in the early 90s pushed it to near collapse.
By then, the cooperative commanded seven societies – Ang’urai, Changara, Jairos and Lukolis in Busia, Kimwanga and Sango in Bungoma, and Namusamba in Kakamega – with more than 21,000 members.
“Our woes began when importation of second-hand clothes was given the green light. We did our last ginning in 1995 before our operation took a nosedive,” he says.
During the period, the Malakisi plant was churning out at least 6,300 bales annually, but the government’s move impacted the firms heavily.
Officials of Funyula’s Luanda ginnery, which used to be the top producer of lint with a capacity of seven bales per day, agree that opening up the market affected the industry.
“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,” says Mr Vincent Egesa, the Luanda Farmers Cooperative Union chairman.
He adds that a revamp is necessary.
But industry players admit that cotton production remains a lucrative venture if given enough support by the government.
For instance, Mr Egesa says the Luanda ginnery, which remains intact despite being inactive for close to three decades, can still go full throttle if serviced.
“This ginnery boasts of the best equipment in East and Central Africa, with the processing machines still intact,” he says.
“We have already installed a new electric system,” he says.
Mr Opili says the Malikisi plant needs at least Sh20 million to kick-start operations.
“Our membership may have shrunk drastically, but farmers are still embracing cotton farming in the region. They only need to be assured that they have a market for their products,” he says.
Luanda Union Secretary David Ogea urges the national government to intervene by coming up with policies that will help the industry rise again.
“We cannot access loans because our operations are minimal,” he says.
Nambale Farmers Cooperative Union Chairman Peter Ndukhu says stringent measures are needed to revive cotton farming.
Mr Opili is also of the view that the government needs to empower cotton farmers to sustain operations, including at the Eldoret-based textile manufacturer Rivatex.
Rivatex was upgraded with state-of-the-art machinery after the government secured Sh5 billion funding from the US-based Export-Import Bank.
Managing Director Thomas Kipkurgat says at least 500,000 acres of cotton will be required to meet the company’s demands.