Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Poor income stains cotton sector

Crop able to supply local garment makers as well generate adequate earnings for farmers `We can only succeed on this score by developing the sector from the farms to the fabric hence encourage the people.

With almost 90 per cent of the land at the Coast cut out for cotton growing, lack of incentives and proper marketing structures are to blame for the dismal performance of a sub-sector that can help turn around the fortunes of the area.

Even after the Ministry of Agriculture pegged the price per kilo of lint at Sh30, farmers are still not comfortable with the cash crop that despite consuming a lot of time, energy and resources to produce generates very little returns.
Mr Julius Kimotho, a farmer in Mpeketoni one of the areas with the largest number of cotton growers in Kenya said the problem is that growers have been left to fend for themselves.
"The middlemen have come out confusing farmers by dividing them and because of lack of structures to protect them from exploitation they end up selling their produce at as low as Sh24 a kilo," he said.
Heavy rains But worse still most of the farmers failed to get quality seeds for the crop and with heavy rains that are still pounding the area, the harvest for this season does not look promising. Many of them have opted for less strenuous crops such as maize and vegetables which provide food and some cash for their upkeep.
And even with the setting up of the Cotton Development Authority about three years ago nothing short of an action plan specifically targeting the region would revive the industry.
The government has pumped in about Sh700 million to help in the campaign for cotton growing which includes seed bulking.
A director of the authority and cotton farmers' representative in Coast Province Mwangi Migwi says a cotton development plan for the region has already been crafted to provide guidelines on how the sector could be revived and developed. As the situation stands now, he said, the potential alone is not enough if growers continue relying on the few ginners that make a killing at the expense of farmers who toil to produce the crop.
"We can only succeed on this score by developing the sector from the farms to the fabric hence encouraging the community to grow and process cotton to benefit from all the entire cotton value chain.
"In China for instance, there are about 20,000 small scale textile industries. The farmers there do not sell raw cotton but harvest and produce fabric and make the other products from the crop. When farmers add value to their produce they are able to command the market and, therefore, earn more money," said Mr Migwi.
The action plan, according him, proposes capacity building in terms of modern farming techniques to grow the best crop and investing in technology to process textile.
"The cotton value chain is very long and with proper incentives that are being proposed in the plan farmers could soon be making such articles as upholstery, kikoys and towels for the hospitality industry," he said.
A baseline survey done by the Ministry of Agriculture shows that the 10,000 farmers in Lamu West and part of Tana Delta can produce up to 1,000,000 bales of cotton per year through rain fed agriculture. At the current market rate for lint alone, they can earn about Sh2 billion.
Cotton seed which could also be produced by a section of farmers and seed cake are some of the products that would keep them busy throughout the year while earning decent incomes.
With the irrigation schemes revived in Bura and Tana, there is going to be an increase in cotton production that is estimated at between 200,000 and 300,000 bales per year.
Garment manufacturers operating within the Export Procession Zones are calling on the government to enhance the local production capacity to enable the country reap fully from the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa).
According to the chairman of the Garments Manufacturers Association, Mombasa chapter Thomas Puthoor, the recent extension of the Agoa facility will not make any impact in Kenya if the government continues to ignore cotton growing.
Under the agreement passed by Congress in 2001 and which has been extended to 2015, African producers have preferential access to US, the world's biggest consumer.
But the garment manufacturers have warned that if they continue importing raw materials, access to American markets under the pact will only benefit countries supplying raw materials and not Africa.
"We need to build capacity and be able to produce our own cotton and fabric which will not only increase our speed to supply markets in America but will also create employment," said Mr Puthoor, who is also managing director Kapric Apparels.
Currently, garment manufacturers import fabric mainly from India and China, countries that also compete with Africa for the lucrative American clothing industry.
It takes about 150 days for a Kenyan based manufacturer to supply products to American markets from the time of ordering fabric to delivery of finished products, which if raw materials are obtained locally would be cut down by almost half to 60 days, said Mr Puthoor.

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