Reimagine the Kenyan cotton industry
Published on: July 6, 2022
reNature and Labl have been working hard to revitalize and reimagine the cotton industry in Voi, Kenya. We have co-developed a regenerative design for cotton that is ready to be shared with the local community of 5.000 farmers. In the project’s next phase, reNature will work with Labl to establish a Model Farm at their processing facility, which Labl will then replicate on four community member plots in the neighboring sub-counties.
Why Kenyan cotton?
Until the 1970s, Kenya was a major cotton producer for domestic and international consumption. At its peak, the industry supported more than 200,000 households. In Taita Taveta County, where the Labl project is based, cotton-growing was the primary source of steady income for local farmers who leveraged the robust local infrastructure to produce raw cotton for ginneries. The gain from the sale of cotton enabled them to pay school fees for their children and healthcare, supplement their incomes and pay for their citizenry obligations. Losing the principle local industry forced families to search for alternatives. Generally, men migrated elsewhere to search for work, while women were left at home to care for the children and practice subsistence farming to feed their families.
Introducing Labl and their community-focused approach
The social enterprise Labl is looking to work with the local community to revive and reimagine the cotton sector in Voi. Labl is a sustainable and fair clothing producer for fashion brands with a big vision to make the fashion industry planet positive through a new way of creating and selling. Their systemic redesign offers a connected value chain – from regenerative cotton farming to processing, from textiles to fairly made clothing production. This pioneering model is an answer to the fragmented supply chains in fashion that have caused a host of social, economic, and environmental issues.
Labl has built its first full-scale production facility in Voi, Kenya, where they have worked hard to engage and empower the local farming community to be a valued part of their supply chain. The local community co-owns the production facility, which means that any profits directly support local community interests. reNature has worked closely with Labl and the local community to develop a regenerative design for cotton production, which can be replicated amongst the target group of 5.000 farmers.
reNature ensures the revitalized cotton sector is regenerative
Labl chose to work with reNature to ensure regenerative practices will be embedded in the new system. ReNature conducted a context analysis to understand the local landscape. A team of interviews and focus group discussions with members of the local farming community on socio-economic elements and soil assessments. This data has informed a tailor-made design that meets the needs of the community.
The challenges are harsh but not unsolvable
The key findings of the analysis read like a harrowing story. Here are the main:
- Lack of organization/cooperatives in the area
- Low levels of youth involvement in agriculture
- Severe difficulties in accessing water
- Inadequate access to agricultural extension services
- Disjointed cotton value chain and poor market access
- Poor soil health and insufficient access to soil testing services
- Climate variability, including prolonged droughts
- Wildlife human conflict, particularly with elephants from the neighboring Tsavo national park
These challenges led to a regenerative design for cotton farming, including suggestions for specific tree, shrub, and plant species along with relevant agroforestry systems and spatial arrangements. Besides the cotton, the design would provide additional income streams by including high-value trees. Some examples include mango, tamarind, moringa oleifera, and teak.
Key regenerative practices included in the design are alley intercropping, fodder production, incorporation of cover crops, mulching, integrated pest management, and crop rotation.
Ready for the model farm implementation
reNature and Labl would like to scale this project, beginning with the implementation of one Model Farm on the grounds of the Labl processing facility in Voi. This Model Farm will incorporate the key recommendations from the context analysis and design report. In the future, this Model Farm will continue to adapt to new research that emerges in the field. As part of this phase, the Model Farm at the Labl processing facility will serve as a platform to train Labl’s extension officers. These extension officers will then implement four Model Farms within the local community in Taita-Taveta County, in the sub-counties Mwatate, Taveta, Wundayi, and Voi.