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Govt introduces new cotton variety to boost production
Jun '08
Government of Kenya and related industrial players have undertaken a slew of new policies and marketing strategies to revive and boost cotton farming and production in the country.

Introduction of Hart 89M, a new variety of cotton seed, is a major part of these new policies and was developed by the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) at Mwea in Kirinyaga District through biotechnology.

This new variety has the potential to produce up to 2,500 kilograms of cotton under rain farming and up to 5,000 kilograms under irrigation farming per hectare. This is far above the 200 kilograms harvested by farmers in the year 2005-06 and this way it will go a long way in enhancing the income of the farmers, due to the fact that farmers in dry areas have bigger portions of land.

In an exclusive interview with Fibre2fashion, Dr Charles Waturu Nderito, Principal Investigator of the Bt-cotton project, stated, “Hart 89M is the local non Bt-cotton variety developed for the environments South of the Rift valley in Kenya. However, the project currently being undertaken by the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute research centre-KARI-Mwea is compared with Monsanto transgenic Bollgard I and Bollgard II cotton varieties. Bollgard I (varieties-NuCotn 35B, DP404BG and DP448B) carries cry IAc gene responsible for production of the toxic protein Cry 1Ac for control of the African bollworm (Helicoverpa armigera). The Bollgard II variety (06Z604D) carries cry 1Ac and cry 2Ab2 genes responsible for two toxic proteins Cry 1Ac and Cry 2Ab2 also for control of the African bollworm. HART 89M is an elite variety well adapted to the local environment and plans are under way to convert it to Bt-cotton.”

Dr Waturu also asserted that since the collapse of cotton production in Kenya from an all time high of 70,000 bales in 1985/86 to 20,000 bales by year 2001, the Government has started to institute measures to revitalize the industry. The measures have led to cotton production rising to 45,000 bales by the year 2005. Poor agronomic practices particularly pest control was one of the factors that contributed to the collapse of cotton production.

Introduction of transgenic Bt-cotton expressing Bt-toxins in cotton plants would greatly reduce the need for application of broad-spectrum insecticides, cutting on the cost of pesticides hence increasing returns to the cotton producer. Bt-cotton would also minimize the negative effect of the insecticides on the natural enemies of cotton pests promoting their activity on cotton pests. This would in turn make management of cotton pests more efficient thereby increasing yields and net returns to cotton farmers.

When asked about the plans to produce this BT cotton for commercial use, Dr Waturu affirmed that the evaluations of the transgenic Bollgard I and II varieties are intended for commercialization as they will make cotton production more profitable in Kenya.

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