The cotton, textiles and apparel (CTA) industry is Kenya’s second-largest manufacturing industry after food processing and has been classified as a core industry.
Kenya’s CTA manufacturing value chain comprises researchers, ginners, farmers, spinners, input suppliers, textile manufacturers and extension service providers among others.
It is estimated that approximately 40,000 farmers are involved in cotton farming, while the overall sector provides livelihood to approximately 200,000 households.
Cotton in Kenya is mainly grown by about 30,000 to 45,000 smallholder farmers in arid and marginal regions, under rain-fed conditions on small land holdings of about one hectare.
Most of the country’s cotton is cultivated in the Coast Province, Western Province and Eastern Province, and the rest is cultivated in Central and Rift Valley Provinces. Kenya has an estimated 385,000 hectares of land that is suitable for cotton – 350,000 rain-fed and 35,000 irrigated – with a production potential of more than 300,000 tons of cotton seed. Nevertheless, only a fraction of that land is under cotton cultivation.
Current production of cotton lint in Kenya is approximately 7,000 tons versus a potential production of 200,000 tons of lint or 750,000 tons of seed cotton.
The production has been volatile for the last few years and has not been sufficient to meet the domestic mill requirement. As a result, Kenyan firms import cotton from neighbouring cotton-producing countries such as Uganda and Tanzania.
Cotton was introduced in Kenya in 1902 by the British colonial administration. The Cotton Lint and Seed Marketing Board was founded in 1953 to undertake processing, marketing and production in the cotton sector. Simultaneously, cooperative unions were also established to deal with key activities such as payment to farmers and input supply.
At the time of independence in 1963, private ginners dominated the industry. In the following decade, the government invested in textile mills, fixed producer prices, controlled marketing margins and aided cooperative societies in buying ginneries from the colonialists. The Government of Kenya also safeguarded the local industry by levying a 100 percent duty on imported goods. This enabled the local textile industry to grow fast, with a typical production capacity of more than 70 percent.
In the early 1990s, the government decided to liberalize the sector. Government support started declining and the market was thrown open. A sector that was protected for decades was not ready to compete with inexpensive imports from Asian suppliers. Cotton production, too, started declining. As a result, the influx of imported goods increased rapidly and the domestic industry entered a downward spiral.
At the turn of century, the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) came into force and the sector started on a recovery path, albeit slowly. Realizing the exports and employment potential
of the sector, in recent years, the government also announced a number of policy measures to attract investment in the CTA sector and enhance exports. In 2014, Kenya replaced Lesotho as the largest garment exporter to the USA under AGOA. Kenya is expected to remain the largest beneficiary of the recent 10-year extension of AGOA.
Cotton was once one of the most economically viable cash group crops in the dry areas of Kisumu, Homabay, and Migori. It was also one of Kenya’s top foreign exchange-earners. However, the collapse of several cotton ginneries in Nyanza and Western in the 1980s led to thousands of cotton growers abandoning the crop for other cereals.
In an effort to revive the industry in Nyanza, the Lake Basin Development Authority (LBDA) is in the process of constructing a cotton ginnery and oil press factory in Kisumu as a strategy of reviving the cotton industry in the West Kenya region at a cost of Ksh700 million.
According to LBDA managing director Dr Raymond Omollo, the ginnery project will involve the acquisition and installation of a cotton ginning machine with a capacity to process up to 3,780 tonnes of cotton per year.
Farmers will also be trained on new techniques of cotton production to boost their production and income per capita. Already, the construction has begun.
The ginnery construction work is 60 percent complete. There are also efforts by the authority to revive defunct cotton ginneries in Nyakach and Seme sub-counties.
Three ginneries will be built in Kisumu and a similar number will also be built in Homabay.
Distribution of cotton seeds through cotton cooperative societies in Seme, Kobura, Nyando, Muhoroni, and Nyakach has been done in a fresh bid to get more farmers to invest in cotton.
Also, the Rift Valley Textile (Rivatex) has set up a factory at Boya in Nyando Sub County and targets to create employment opportunities for over 500 people.
Kisumu County has received 12 tonnes of cotton seeds, 140 kilos of biotechnology (BT) high breed seeds, and 480 kilos of high breed seeds after the ban on cotton seeds imports was lifted last year.
Kenya enjoys duty-free market access to the US under AGOA and to the EU under the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs). Kenya-based garment exporters are also beneficiaries of third-country fabric provision under AGOA as well as EPA, which means the garments qualifying for duty-free preferences can be made from imported fabric as well.
Total apparel exports from Kenya to the US increased marginally by 0.03 percent in the year 2017 to stand atUS$ 339.7 million from US$ 339.6 million recorded in 2016.
At present, Kenya imports second-hand clothing or mitumba worth US$ 137 million (2013), which is a big deterrent for the domestic market.
The Government is providing investment support under Export Processing Zones (EPZs), which includes tax incentives and holidays, VAT exemption, business allowance and investment deductions. The Export Processing Zones Authority (EPZA) expedites product manufacturing for exports in the EPZ and provides information for investments in the EPZ.
The government is also planning the establishment of industrial parks in Naivasha, Mtwapa, Samburu and Voi. These include support for the development of the Athi River Textile Hub and the modernization of factories like Rivatex.
The development of the SEZ Textile park in Naivasha, the cotton development –subsidy and extension support (SES) as well as harmonizing taxes between EPZ, SEZ and local manufacturers to promote trade.
Manufacturers benefit from a corporate income tax holiday, exemption from import duties on inputs, streamlined license processing, and subsidized electricity.
Through the buy Kenya, Build Kenya Initiative, EPZ firms also sell to local markets 20 percent of their annual clothing production without being taxed on sales and import duties on raw materials and equipment. Attributed to such incentives and the through AGOA, Kenya’s apparel exports have been on the increase from $8.6 million to $368 million between 2000 – 2015.
At the production level, primary interventions include distribution of high-quality seed to increase yields, increasing the domestic cotton seed and the total area in cotton production, as well as revitalizing irrigation schemes, (Bura and Hola).
A lot of hope is in the introduction of high-yielding cotton and commercialization of bt-cotton (Bacillus thuringiensis), currently being tested in various cotton-growing areas in the country.
In the past, farmers have been losing up to 100 percent of their crops to pests and diseases, particularly to the indomitable African ballworm.