Reviving the Kenyan Cotton Industry

A once thriving local industry that collapsed in the face of cheap imports from the West and the Far East is experiencing a revival in Kenya, and thousands of farming households in Western Kenya are reaping the dividend.

New market opportunities have opened up for cotton producers  like Rift Valley Products (RVP), who recently received investment financing from Self Help Africa’s AgriFI Challenge Fund to support an expansion of its operations in Nakuru, Kenya. 

Kenya’s cotton industry was in the doldrums for over decades, as prices for the crop slumped in the face of a market that became flooded by cheap Asian clothing and secondhand clothes from the West. However, a Government initiative to revive the cotton sector is underway, and businesses, and farm producers are starting to see the benefits.

Rift Valley Products is working directly with 7,000 farming families in Ol Karia Valley, helping them with training, inputs, and creating market interest in locally produced cotton.

Small-scale farm producers like Wilson Haya and Consolata Anyango have seen a large increase in yields, and in earnings from cotton sales. Wilson says that he recently harvested 3000 kg of cotton from a plot that previously only gave him 200 kg.

“In the past we didn’t have the skills to produce big yields, and there was little incentive either as nobody wanted to buy cotton.  Now, we’re selling to Rift Valley who have a nearby depot, and they are offering good money.”

Consolata says that she used to struggle to pay for her children’s school fees. “Now, I’m earning enough to be able to send my children to college,” she says.

Rift Valley Products Director, Devan Khagram says “One of the downfalls of the industry has been unscrupulous buyers, telling farmers ‘You are too far away, we’ll buy your cotton for half the price.’”

Self Help Africa’s AgriFI Kenya Challenge Fund, which is backed by the EU and by Slovak Aid, has allowed RVP to set up local buying centres where cotton is baled for transportation.  “We’re a company they can trust and they recognise that we will pay a fair price,” Devan Khagram says.

William Hoya says “Rift Valley products is buying from farms directly and is training our young people in cotton farming. We have a reason to be happy.”