Kenya is likely to start growing genetically modified cotton on commercial basis next year.
The country will become the first in East Africa to grow GMOs in open fields, and fourth in Africa after South Africa, Burkina Faso and Sudan.
The launch for commercialisation is expected in January 2019, while farmers are likely to plant their first Bt cotton seeds in March.
The development follows the recent approval for national performance trials for Bt cotton by the National Environment Management Authority (Nema).
Already, the Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organisation (Kalro) has planted the first Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) cotton in open fields for environmental testing in Kibos, Kisumu in the west of the country.
“We expect that in the next seven months we shall have sufficient data from the field trials for scrutiny by the various government agencies including Nema,” said the director of Horticulture Research Institute at Kalro Dr Charles Waturu.
The national performance trials will be conducted at five other sites across the country — Mwea, Bura Tana, Katumani, Kampi ya Mawe and Perkerra — at an estimated cost of $75,000 for two years.
“Compared with the conventional cotton seeds that produce about 2,500kg per acre, Bt Cotton yields are double,” said Dr Waturu.
In East Africa, only Uganda and Kenya, are conducting confined field trials on Bt cotton, maize and cassava.
Tanzania recently reviewed its law on GMOs, paving the way for scientists in the country to start carrying out confined trials.
Bt cotton is among six crops that have been under confined field trials. The others are drought-tolerant maize, biofortified sorghum, viral resistant cassava, nutritionally enhanced cassava and gypsophila paniculata cut flowers.