Four high-yielding hybrid cotton varieties could boost the crop’s cultivation and the textile industry.
The cotton varieties, which are currently in the final stages of analysis of the national performance trials at the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (Kalro) in Mwea, have already shown promising results.
The varieties were developed by crossbreeding high-yielding varieties from India and Kenya.
“For a long time, Kenya has largely depended on two cotton varieties: the KSA 81M and the Hart 89M, which were developed in 1981 and 1989.
“These are archaic and unimproved varieties, and ideally, for optimal production, the crop’s varieties should be upgraded after every six years,” said Dr Charles Waturu, the principal researcher of
Bt-Cotton in the country, noting that the Hart 89M, the most recent enhanced cotton variety released 20 years, is now obsolete.
Being timeworn, the productivity, resilience, and robustness of these old varieties have been over-taken by time, hence their low yields, due to susceptibility to attacks by pests, and particularly the African bollworm (Helicoverpa armigera); the largest pest threat to cotton production.
According to Dr Waturu, the ideal cotton for the best textiles is the long and the extra-long staple variety Gossypium barbadense.
The new cotton varieties will undergo a second and final trial in four sites: Mwea, Katumani, Kampi ya Mawe and Perkerra, before multiple demonstrations across the country in May 2019, and subsequent rollout in October.
To give them self-protecting mechanisms against the highly destructive bollworm, there are enhanced with Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt).
RISE IN PRODUCTION
Kenya, which has not cultivated hybrid cotton before, leading to a sharp decline in production from the 80s, hopes to follow in the footsteps of India, the largest producer of cotton globally with more than 11.4 million hectares under the crop.
Thanks to hybrid varieties enhanced with Bt, India has a thriving cotton sector, whose annual production is about 35 million bales, with exports worth Sh3.5 trillion.
The Bt microorganism, which occurs naturally in the soil, gives the plant ability to protect itself from bollworm, hence reducing expenses required for pesticides, according Dr Anne Kimani, a Kalro scientist working in the cotton programme.
This is important because pesticides have little effect on the African bollworm, as the pest has developed resistance to synthetic pyrethrins and pyrethroids.
According to Martin Mbuthia, a researcher at the National Biosafety Authority, the national performance trials, which sought to explore the possibility of growing Bt cotton in the country, have given the adoption of the technology in cotton production a nod for both food and environmental safety.
The Fibre Crops Directorate estimates that with the adoption of the new breeds, cotton production in the country is expected to rise from the current 21,000 bales to more than 200,000 bales annually.
This is because the challenge, initially posed by poor seeds which produce crops whose fruits are highly susceptible to pest attacks, will be addressed by the introduction of the new breeds containing the self-protecting mechanism Bt.
With these new varieties, farmers can expect to get up to 1,000 kilogrammes per hectare of lint and 2,500 kilogrammes per hectare of cotton seed, compared to the 211 kilogrammes per hectare and 572 kilogrammes per hectare of cotton lint and seed respectively, which they get from the currently avail-able conventional varieties.