KENYA is one step away from commercialising Bt cotton following the commencement of National Performance Trials (NPTs) to identify suitable varieties for different agroecological zones.
This comes after the National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) granted an Environmental Impact Assessment license to Kenya Agricultural Livestock and Fisheries Organisation (KALRO) to undertake the trials.
The planting began on June 11, 2018 in Kisumu, western Kenya, with KALRO’s Bt cotton Principal Investigator, Dr Charles Waturu, presiding over the event. The NPTs will be carried out in seven sites spread across six counties.
GM cotton planting is a significant move in the revitalisation of textiles and apparel industry, which the Kenyan government has identified as key in upscaling manufacturing and realising the ‘Big
Four’ agenda, a five-year ambitious economic recovery plan. More than 200,000 hectares are earmarked for Bt cotton.
Speaking at the event, Waturu said he is optimistic that the data obtained from the trials will be adequate to allow Bt cotton varieties to be registered in Kenya,
“I believe the NPTs will give way for commercialisation of the GM crop,” Waturu remarked. “If well managed, farmers will be able to get up to five tons of cotton from one acre. This is a big boost and we want to move fast to ensure Kenya regains her cotton growing glory,” he added.
The beginning of the NPTs is a relief for thousands of cotton farmers in the country who are excited that they will reap big from Bt cotton once it is commercialised.
“We are excited that today marks the beginning of an end to our woes as Bt cotton will significantly reduce exposure to harmful pesticides, boost our cotton harvests, reduce cost of production and increase our income so that we can afford quality education for our children,” said James Midega, a local cotton farmer.
If the trials yield favorable data, farmers are likely to access the Bt cotton hybrid seeds in April 2019. This will be a culmination of a process that started in 2001 when the first application to introduce Bt cotton was made.
The first transgenic cotton confined field trials were planted in 2004 and completed in 2010.
An environmental release approval by the National Biosafety Authority followed in 2016, subject to meeting some conditions among them, Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) clearance certificate. NEMA issued the license for implementations of the NPTs on May 30, 2018.