By Xinhua News
October 11, 2017
NAIROBI, Oct. 11 (Xinhua) — Kenya on Wednesday unveiled a national task force to oversee the commercialization of genetically modified cotton in the next five years.
Cabinet Secretary for Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries Willy Bett said the team will build the capacity of key stakeholders involved in the rollout of genetically engineered cotton.
“The government is committed towards harnessing the benefits of biotechnology to help improve rural livelihoods, create employment and increase foreign direct investments in the cotton sub-sector,” Bett said in a statement issued in Nairobi.
He said Kenyan farmers will start cultivation of the Bt cotton in 2019 once the task force establishes structures to support that endeavor.
Bt cotton is genetically enhanced with Bt-genes to protect it against caterpillar pests, especially the African bollworm, the most destructive pest in cotton crops. Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) is a beneficial bacteria that occurs naturally in the soil, local Daily Nation reported.
Since 2002, the National Performance Trials of the Bt cotton have been conducted at Kenya Agricultural, Livestock Research Organization (KALRO)’s research center at Mwea in central Kenya, where the plant performed well, he said.
Controlled field trials of the Bt cotton have been going on since 2002 and are now nearing completion.
The government approved the field trial of Bt cotton (MON 15985) in a Gazette notice issued in September this year.
Kenya’s cotton sub-sector has been performing poorly due to lack of quality seeds and high production costs, forcing the closure of ginneries and cloth-making factories in western and coastal regions, where the crop has been grown for decades.
The African bollworm is particularly to blame for the sharp rise in production costs of cotton in Kenya.
Bett said that the National Biosafety Authority, KALRO and other regulatory agencies are also in consultations on how to initiate Bt maize in the nearby future.
Kenya’s poverty reduction strategy of 2000-2003 identified cultivation of cotton as critical to the revival of economies of people living in marginalized regions.
It is estimated that up to a quarter of Kenya’s population live in those areas and can therefore benefit from revival of the cotton industry.