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Kenyan pastoralists revive cotton farming with improved returns

by Robert Manyara KAPENGURIA (Xinhua) -- Joseph Lotiongole is a well-known cotton farmer in his village located in northwestern Kenyan county of West Pokot.

For Lotiongole, cotton farming has for decades been his only source of living as the good soil enabled him to produce enough for sale to the local market.

A rice farmer spreads a net on a rice nursery at the Mwea Irrigation Scheme | Coastweek

  But along the way, Lotiongole abandoned the crop after the collapse of cotton mills that used to hum in the northwestern Kenyan towns.

"The good soils gave us better yields and the earnings were encouraging.

"But things changed when Rivatex and other cotton mills collapsed.

"There was no market and we were forced to abandon the crop," Lotiongole told Xinhua during a recent interview.

But with the recent revival of Rivatex, many farmers in West Pokot County are trooping to give cotton a second trial after prolonged break.

"For the past months many farmers are back to cotton farming. Since President Uhuru Kenyatta ordered for the revival of Rivatex some of us are excited that there is hope in cotton farming," said Jacob Tomtom, a cotton farmer in a village located along the Kenya-Uganda border.

Tomtom recalls how proceeds from cotton sale supported most of the West Pokot pastoralists in the area take their children.

MWEA (Xinhua) -- A rice farmer spreads a net on a rice nursery at the Mwea Irrigation Scheme in Mwea, Kirinyaga County. Local farmers in the region have been invented a way to keep birds away from their rice fields at the end of the growing season by placing fish nets on the rice fields. XINHUA PHOTO - NJOROGE KABURO

"Soil here favored cotton and the income from its sale enabled most of us to pay school fees for our children and but our hearts were broken when Rivatex collapsed," said Tomtom.

Unlike previous times when local residents used hoes to dig the barren land to grow cotton, the government through Agricultural Development Corporation (ADC) has provided powerful tractors to help farmers plough enough land.

The announcement by the management of the textile manufacturer that the plant has undergone a major facelift is presenting new opportunities for cotton farmers such as Lotiongole.

The plant managed by Moi University, has installation of state-of-the-art machinery after the government secured some 50 million U.S. dollars in funding from the U.S.-based Export-Import Bank.

The giant fabric producer had remained dormant for years following the collapse of the textile industry in the country.

Moi University took over operations at the facility, which has led to its transformation over the last two years.

According to Rivatex’s managing director Thomas Kipkurgat at least 500,000 acres of cotton will be required to meet the company’s cotton demands.

"The factory has the capacity to handle 40 tonnes of cotton daily, but it is currently processing 12 tonnes and before it was modernized, the factory was only processing two tonnes of cotton daily," Kipkurgat told Xinhua.

The official disclosed that the plant is currently importing cotton from neighboring Tanzania and Uganda.

"To meet increasing demand for cotton, Rivatex had signed cotton-growing deals with 24 counties in the Rift Valley and Eastern regions," said Kipkurgat.

"This would reduce the mill’s reliance on imported raw material and result in lower operational costs," he added.

Kipkurgat encouraged local farmers to grow cotton on a large scale because the market is readily available.

Elgeyo Marakwet, West Pokot, Baringo and Kitui are some of the counties that the firm target to grow cotton to meet its demand.

He said the management has supplied cotton seeds and pesticides to the counties targeted in a bid to promote production of the raw material.

The firm starts producing material for police uniforms. "Apart from police fabric, we are also manufacturing fabrics for military and hospital uniforms, as well as for making lesos," said Kipkurgat.

He said the company positioning to make clothes for members of the public adding the plans will increase demand for cotton.

The plant is set to create jobs for more than 2,000 graduates from nearby vocational and technical training institutes, he said.


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