Introducing Bt cotton: Policy lessons for small holder farmers in Kenya

Title- Introducing Bt cotton: Policy lessons for small holder farmers in Kenya
Author Prof. Judi Wangalwa Wakhungu and David Wafula.

Published by the African Center for technology Studies, ACTS.

Book reviewed by Henry Neondo


AGOA initiative is a US initiative aimed to help substantially increase African exports to the US markets especially in the textiles. But luck of raw materials like cotton has given Asian tigers a leeway to exploit African opportunity to the maximum.

Modern biotechnology, conspicuously low in Africa could be the way out for the poverty stricken continent as notes David Wafula of the Africa Centre for Technology Studies, ACTS.

According to Wafula, biotechnology is placed among the scientific and technological advances that have generated unprecedented exuberance and skepticism in the twenty first century.

Biotechnology also emerges as one of the most capital and knowledge intensive technologies of the present day and age.

The adoption and diffusion of biotechnology has been marked by polarized and controversial debates worldwide.

While the benefits of the technology have been enumerated, both proponents and antagonists of biotechnology agree that biotechnology can be potentially risky to the environment, human health and the socio-economic welfare of the society.

In particular concerns have been raised about the ethical, environmental and food safety threats that genetically modified organisms may pose.

Despite the foregoing concerns, the development and use of biotechnology continues particularly in the field of agriculture and medicine.

A number of countries are increasingly embracing agricultural biotechnology as a potential technological solution to production constraints.

They are motivated by the possibilities of the technology contributing towards increased agricultural productivity, food security, environmental sustainability and poverty reduction.

In the field of agriculture, the potential of biotechnology falls into two main categories. The first category comprises of traits developed to confer crop protection and improve productivity, the second category consists of output traits aimed at adding value and improving the quality of products.

The first generation of GM crops has placed more emphasis on increasing productivity per unit of land and reducing production costs through improving the genetic make up and agronomic characteristics of crops.

Bt cotton, Bacillus thuringiensis is among the range of genetically modified crops developed to reduce production costs and protect the environment through reduced chemical use.

While the application of biotechnology tools in agriculture opens a wide span of potential benefits, many of these benefits may not be achieved if a number of important issues are not taken care of.

These issues range from the organisation of the technology and innovation systems to technology delivery mechanisms.

Prof. Wakhungu and Mr. Wafula’s work as expressed in the book is a collection of investigations of the extent to which Bt. Cotton can address production constraints facing small holder cotton farmers in Kenya.

The book presents an overview of the decline in cotton production in Kenya, unraveling the various causes of the decline including the economic institutional and technological facets.

The work of the book also draws lessons and evidence from China, India, South Africa and Mexico, to give account and circumstances under which Bt cotton can be harnessed in Kenya to address causes of this decline.

The work, says the authors, is driven by the premises that the policy, institutional and regulatory context in which the technology has been introduced is extremely fundamental and will to a large extent determine whether cotton farmers will reap the benefits or not.

The book comprises of the introduction and background to the study sites and the cotton industry in Kenya, overview of the problem, justification and methodology.

The second chapter locates the theoretical framework and conceptual lens of the study. The third chapter identifies various constraints facing the cotton sector in Kenya.

Empirical data on cotton production and marketing in the study sites is presented.

This chapter examines the intricacies of cotton trade from the broader global perspective and how a few countries determine cotton supply and demand and consequently producer prices.

The opportunities and challenges that AGOA offers are analysed from an institutional perspective.
This chapter also reflects on farmers’ assessment of the AGOA initiative. The fourth chapter is dedicated to biotechnology and agrarian change.

It focuses on the current on the current status and trends in biotechnology at the global, regional and national levels. It also reviews the state of biotechnology in Kenya.

Chapter five assess the position of Bt cotton vis-a vis other genetically modified crops, giving evidence, conditions and examining how Bt cotton from case study countries has been introduced and commercialised.

The last chapter of the book analyses the implications of the issues carried over from the last five chapters of the book giving implications for Kenya and highlighting the understanding of the biotechnology in general and perceptions on Bt cotton in particular from the standpoint of the farmers, ginneries and government agricultural extension officers.

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