Rising prices and demand as Kenya’s ginneries are rehabilitated has seen a wave of farmers revert to farming the crop they abandoned in the early 1990s due to poor prices and regulation. In the larger Makueni in Eastern region, over 80 per cent of farmers are now growing the crop, and in Rift Valley farmer numbers have nearly tripled from the 1200 growers recorded in 2009.
The renewed interest from farmers is being spurred by the incentives that cotton stakeholders are offering. The government is now giving farmers free seed and some of the ginneries are employing extension officers to train farmers in good farm management practices. “We have employed 30 extension officers,” said Devan Khagram of Salawa Ginnery.
In the Rift Valley, Salawa Ginnery is also helping farmers with farm inputs like pesticides, spray pump credit and ploughing services, which sees farmers pay back interest free loans after harvest. The crop has one annual planting season, but the appeal of this support has seen Salawa register 3500 cotton farmers, up from 1200 in 2009.
Milton Katia, a veteran cotton farmer from Kathozweni County Eastern Province, is a hopeful man. A veteran of cotton farming since 1979 he has lived the ups and downs of farming the fluffy crop for more than 30 years, but now says things are changing.
As the Cotton Development Authority (CODA) Chairman in the larger Makueni region, he has witnessed over 80 percent of the farmers in the last year return to cotton farming, having abandoned the crop from 1992 after the collapse of the Cotton Board of Kenya (CBK).
Prior to its collapse, CBK regulated cotton prices and provided farmers with chemicals including pesticide sprayers. The price regulations by CBK ensured farmers’ cotton was bought at a guaranteed price. But after its collapse, brokers bought the cotton at far lower prices, which fell as low as Sh15 a kilo for high quality Grade A cotton and Sh9 a kilo for Grade B.
The prices were too low to sustain the farming of the crop, which requires heavy chemical inputs to prevent diseases, aphids and borers, and the results in the field were drastic, with farmers who couldn’t get the chemicals harvesting as little as 5kgs of cotton per acre. The result was a mass withdrawal from cotton farming country wide. But Katia was one of the few exceptions “I had seen the benefits of farming it in earlier times,” he said. And maize, the substitute crop, was also doing badly in the semi arid area.
However ,when CODA was gazetted in 2006, it offered the prospect of a revival in cotton farming. The body brought together stakeholders that included ginneries, spinners, researchers, weavers and growers and was backed by the Agricultural Ministry. The stakeholders were to manage cotton from growing to marketing.
The fresh wave of optimism that came with the set-up of CODA spurred farmers in Makueni to enrol in workshops run by the International Cotton Advisory Committee on cotton farming. And Katia, one of 167 trainees last year, was named the top farmer from Makueni by a local farming publication.
From his 3.5 acre of land, Katia went on to harvest 2550 kilograms of Grade A cotton, which he sold for Sh32 per kilo, to earn Sh81,600. He made a few more shillings by selling 28 kg of Grade B cotton at Sh13 a kilo, but had also intercropped the cotton with green grams, from which he earned an additional Sh28,000.
The grand total was almost Sh110,000, on an initial investment of Sh15,000 in labour, chemicals and Hart 89 cotton seeds.
Katia and another 350 Kathozweni farmers with a combined 2000 acres sell their cotton to Makueni Ginnery, planting once a year in October and November and harvesting from April to August.
In 1984, when cotton farming was at its peak, 6.5 million kilograms of Grade A cotton was harvested in Makueni. Today, Katia projects Makueni may produce 3.2 million kilograms, of which 1.2 million kilograms will come from Kathozweni.
The now upgraded Makueni Ginnery, which is processing around 6million kilograms of cotton a year to produce 10,000 bales a year of processed cotton, each weighing 60kg, now accounts for one quarter of Kenya’s cotton production.
Even now, the high costs of pest control, limited supplies of treated seeds, and difficulties in funding the buying of knapsack sprayers, chemicals and seeds, continue to act as brakes on growth, said Katia. But now “the market is there”.
Written By James Karuga for African Laughter
With rains having failed for a third season and food production suffering, farmers in Kabati division of Kitui West District are now producing sisal fibre in bulk for a market that has quietly exploded on the back of a global shortage.
Sisal was once the world’s main raw material for agricultural twine and sacks, but as global buyers turned to polypropylene and synthetic alternatives, the sisal market collapsed, leaving areas such as Kabati using the plant only to mark boundaries and for fencing.
But the plant has now risen afresh as a raw material for producers seeking natural and durable alternatives to plastics. In particular, it has experienced a resurgence in the world carpet industry, with the proportion of carpeting made from sisal having more than doubled in recent years, to more than one-in-ten of all carpets bought worldwide. Sisal is also now being used by the global paper industry, where its added strength is a bonus in papers with high volumes of recycled content.
It’s a bounce back that last month saw the Tanzanian sisal board report global sisal demand running at 230,000 tonnes a year, against supply of just 130,000 tonnes, causing a shortage that has seen global sisal prices rise to $1500 a tonne.
At the same time, in Kabati, sisal has continued to thrive, unaffected by the harsh climate and drought that has knocked out many other crops. Made up of a rosette of spear shaped leaves about 1.5 to 2 metres tall, sisal has a 7 to 10-year life span and produces 200-500 usable leaves, each leaf containing around 1,000 fibres.
Women are now forming themselves in groups to produce large quantities of the sisal fibres, driven by the scale of the demand from local merchants.
Over the last five years, the volume of sisal production in Kenya has risen by 40 per cent - from 25,009 tonnes in 2005 to 35,119 tonnes in 2010 - with Sisal Estates like Rea Vipingo and Voi Sisal Estate producing four-fifths of the output and smallholders the other one-fifth.
However, demand is still running ahead of supply.
Currently, a kilo of sisal fibre sells at between Sh30 and Sh32 in local markets, but due to the rudimentary production methods one farmer can only manage to produce a maximum of ten kilos a day. However in a group, where tasks are delegated, farmers are managing to produce as much as 100 kilos daily.
The fibre is extracted by a process known as decortications, where the leaves are crushed and beaten with blunt knives so that only the fibres remain as the outer green layer is evenly removed.
The improvised machine used for decortications in Kibati is made of two blunt knives placed on tree stumps facing each other. The traders first scan a canopy of sisal plants to choose the best leaves, from which they then meticulously remove the sharp thorns, being cautious to avoid the poisonous sisal leaves.
The leaves are then dissected into several pieces that are dried in the sun for 30 minutes to lessen the moisture content. "If you fail to dry them, most of the fibre would be wasted, since it will come off together with the outer layer,” said Mueni, one of the women traders specializing in sisal fibres. The pulp which is left behind is dried and used as livestock feed or compost manure.
Tony Mwanza, a merchant at the Kabati Market buoyed by the overwhelming demand for sisal fibre, has put prices up by an extra Sh2 a kilo in an effort to encourage farmers to produce more.
Most of the creamy white sisal fibres that Mwanza delivers find their way to foreign countries as exports. Over 80 per cent of the sisal produced in Kenya is currently being exported, primarily to Spain, Morocco, Portugal and Saudi Arabia.
As well as the surging demand for sisal in carpeting and paper, it is also enjoying rising demand as a raw material for industrial scratching brushes, shopping bags and clothing, valued for its strength, durability, ability to stretch and resistance to deterioration in salt water, as well as for its ‘eco; credentials as a natural product.
Moreover, Kenya is among the world’s top five producers of the fibre, alongside Brazil, China, Mexico, and Tanzania.
For the women traders of Kabati this was a status that had little meaning until recently. But as they turn to commercializing the plant, propagating it by using the small bulbs at the leaf axil or by suckers growing around the plant, being a top producer to a market in short supply is suddenly looking like a sweet place to be.
Written By Bob Koigi for African Laughter
Coffee prices are set to rise after an exceptionally poor harvest year in both Colombia and Brazil, the world's leading coffee producers.
Last year's Colombia harvest was the worst since 1974, due to bad weather, with the International Coffee Organization (ICO) warning the coffee crop for next crop year, beginning September 30, could also fall short of the 9.5 million bags predicted.
As things stand, analysts predict that global demand will be about 131 million bags in 2010, while world production will be around 124 million bags, leading to a further rundown in world coffee stocks, which are already running low.
This has already seen prices surging, from last year’s average price per pound of coffee of 115.67 US cents to an average this year to the end of March of 125.3 US cents per pound, according to the ICO’s composite price index.
The price rises have also been coming through strongly in Kenya, with the price of AA grade coffee up by $54 dollars to $686 per 50kg bag just in the two weeks from the beginning of March.
Kenya currently exports some 57,800 tons of coffee a year to European countries, including German, USA, Sweden, England and Belgium.
Globally, Arabica coffee now accounts for around 60 percent of coffee exports, at 59.53 million bags in the year to March, compared with the more downmarket Robusta, at 32.74 million bags.
Arabica coffee is used for making fresh coffee and up-market instant coffees, with cheaper instant brands made primarily from Robusta.
However, Arabica supplies look set to remain under pressure.
The Brazilian government agency CONAB has released its 2nd estimate for the 2010/11 crop, showing improved production levels in the year ahead. Output is predicted to be 47.04 million bags, compared to 36.9 million bags in 2009/2010.
But while Brazil’s expected return to higher output will push world production to 124 million bags that total remains substantially short of world demand estimates.
Moreover, other producers have also suffered major setbacks, such as Guatemala, where production dipped by 30 per cent in the 2009-2010 coffee season.
Meanwhile, demand continues to rise. The ICO now predicts further price rises based on the 2010/2011 harvest predictions.
Written By Robin Okuthe and James Karuga
Under the supervision of the Cotton Development Board (CODA), farmers are now selling a kilogram of cotton at Sh65, a price set by the board. This compares with Sh15 per kilogram or less for Rift Valley farmers in the1990s. Last year, cotton farmers were paid Sh32 per kilogram, and the previous year Sh30.
Most of the farmers in Kerio Rift Valley are farming cotton in one acre pieces of land, which if the right agronomic practices are applied can yield 800kg an acre. But, according to Devan, the most Kerio farmers are getting per acre is 300kgs.
This has meant that even with 3500 farmers in Kerio, the Salawa Ginnery is proving unable to source sufficient cotton for its capacity, and for demand. The ginnery can process 5million kilograms of raw materials in six months, but the farmers at Kerio are currently supplying only a fifth of that capacity.
This has seen Salawa set a target of recruiting 6000 more farmers in other regions of the Rift Valley, including Naivasha and Western Province.
At current prices, and with a yield of 300kg an acre, farmers are earning nearly Sh20,000, offset against which are costs of around Sh5000, including the cost of 6kg of seed, which is sufficient for an acre. This leaves a return of Sh15,000 per acre.
To start the cotton project in Rift Valley a grant of over $1.3m was given in Kerio in 2009 by the Africa Enterprise Challenge Fund
Written By James Karuga for African Laughter
Newer news items:
- Camels rise as Kenya’s livestock industry of the future - 05/04/2012 12:01
- Two million tea trees earn top dollars for Mount Kenya farmers - 04/04/2012 11:13
- Kenyan farmers quench demand for Ethiopian cuisine with teff - 01/03/2012 13:51
- Farmers invest in feeder roads to reach markets - 01/03/2012 13:46
- Price incentives spur sisal farming comeback - 01/03/2012 13:44
Older news items:
- Academics learn from 'bush universities' - 01/03/2012 13:42
- Marketing knowhow project repositions banana smallholders - 01/03/2012 13:24
- Communities thrive on bringing tourists to the farm - 01/03/2012 13:22
- Goat milk farming rises as new industry - 01/03/2012 13:14
- Farmers earn from selling leaves for chandeliers - 01/03/2012 13:13