Cotton is the crop that can eradicate poverty in this country, says Joseph Mwangi Migwi, cottonfarmer in Mpeketoni in Kenya. The focus on cotton production gave Joseph and his family a much better life.
There is no question as to whether or not Joseph Mwangi Migwi loves his farm. A broad smile spreads across his face when he looks over the 10 acres of farmland that surround him. It is clear for all to see that he also has a passion for Kenyan cotton.
“Cotton is the crop with the potential to wipe out poverty in this country. Firstly, because it is grown in marginalized areas where many poor people live. Secondly, because it is grown by small farmers, who constitute the majority of the population.”
Unlike many other crops, cotton thrives in Kenya's semi-arid climate.
“If we make use of the land which is at present not cultivated, as well as the marginalized communities, in order to grow cotton, we could set the industrialization of cotton in motion in this country,” says Joseph as he sets about planting cotton.
The rainy season has just started and so it's time to sow the cotton seeds. In a few months it will be time to harvest. Joseph measures out a row for the plants with taut string and then makes holes 50-60 centimetres apart. Then the plant nutrients go in, followed by two to three cotton seeds in each hole. He then carefully covers up the holes again with soil using his boot. Done. Then the next row, and the next...
It is hard work running large-scale, manual agriculture. Joseph employs two men and takes on extra workers for sowing and at harvest time.
“I see great possibilities for young men to gain employment and income through investing in cotton.”
Joseph feels that cotton carries great potential as a lot can be done with its by-products. Young entrepreneurs would be able to start production of everything from biofuel to animal feed, paper and nail polish.
Last year, Joseph travelled to Thailand to learn more about one of the world's largest cotton markets. The course was part of the International Trade Centre's (ITC) trust funds, which are geared towards providing the world's least developed countries with the conditions to become competitive and to increase their production of various goods. One of the aims is to provide African cotton farmers with greater knowledge and contacts on the world market.
“It was a real eye-opener. I learned that Kenyan cotton fibres have the highest quality. But I also learned that our cotton is contaminated and that we as a country are too small as cotton producers. Much improvement is needed in order for us to be able to meet the market's requirements.”
Apart from knowledge of the technology and production methods for achieving a higher quality of cotton, Joseph feels that his other eureka moment was gaining access to market information.
“In March this yar, I was a member of the delegation which negotiates the price with the cotton buyers. With the help of knowledge, information and facts, we have been able to get a much better price for cotton. This year cotton farmers receive 65 shillings per kilo instead of the previous 22 shillings,” Joseph explains.
With better pay, the interest for cotton farming has increased, and this year Kenya estimates that its production will increase threefold compared with the previous year. Better pay also means better food, better education and better health for families whose livelihood is in the cotton trade.
“Today I can send my children to college. Illiteracy is high in this part of the country, which is largely due to a lack of funds to pay for education. With increased cotton prices, I think that more children will get to see the inside of colleges in the future,” says Joseph.
In Joseph's case, investment in cotton has significantly improved the quality of life for him and his family.
“Through cotton farming, I've been able to build a spacious house with a tin plated roof. I dug a well, so we now have our own water supply. I've also been able to buy a water pump and a generator which will help us with irrigation for the farm during dry periods.”
Joseph says that gaining contacts with experts and other producers was also invaluable. He got to know the owner of a ginnery, who now buys his cotton at a favourable market price.
Micha Powon, Chief Executive Officer of the Cotton Development Authority, CODA, feels the market is there.
“Kenya has 40 million people, and 13 million children need school uniforms. Today we produce 50, 000 tons of cotton and we should be able to multiply that by ten,” he says.