Kenya is a country at the crossroads of its own past, present, and future.
Once a leading producer of seed cotton, the East African republic found its market dominance throttled in the ‘90s after a “structural adjustment program” from the International Monetary Fund, championing free enterprise, opened the spigot of cheap imports. Local farmers couldn’t keep up.
In its heyday, Kenya produced 200,000 bales of cotton lint annually. Today it’s down to merely a tenth of that, making it a “net importer” of the fiber, according to Rajeev Arora, former textiles advisor for Kenya’s Ministry of Industry, Trade, and Cooperatives. The country’s textile mills, once more than 50 strong, have whittled to six, each operating at roughly 40 percent of full capacity.
“The cost of import was far cheaper than local production, and that’s one of the reasons why most of the textile mills over the years either reduce production or close down,” Arora said. “Unfortunately, 95 percent of the materials sourced in Kenya today are imported from China, India, and Taiwan.”