The concerns have been raised by textile manufacturers in 24 of Kenya’s cotton-growing counties, according to local news reports with governors in Homa Bay and Busia also arguing that importing duty-free fabric will negatively impact farmers who are facing challenges including factory closures.

Governor Glady Wanga argued the country’s vertical textile factory Rivatex, is crucial for supporting farmers and it ensures the availability of raw materials. 

Kenya’s Standard Media publication quoted Wanga as stating “importing duty-free fabric would erase all the progress we’ve made,” and added that “it contradicts the bottom-up economic agenda’s focus on creating jobs and empowering farmers”.

She continued: “There’s a vast market for cotton. Our challenge is to meet the textile industry’s needs, create jobs, and alleviate poverty in our counties.”

Rivatex’s managing director Thomas Kipkurgat is said to have supported this argument by noting the modernisation of the factory facility was almost complete and new machinery would increase capacity and product quality. But, he was keen to urge stakeholders and farmers to reject fabric imports and join the value chain by taking advantage of the factory’s high cotton demand.

The publication quoted him as stating: “Cotton is our primary raw material. 95% of our products are 100% cotton. I urge everyone to oppose duty-free fabric imports we can produce ourselves.”

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Governor Otuoma is also believed to have said farmers are committed to supplying enough raw materials but require government support and called for services to educate farmers on better practices and boost yields. 

Job losses were also seen as a concern with the local news publication explaining managing director of manufacturer Thika Cloth Mills, Tejal Dodhia, warned jobs could disappear due to reliance on imports: “Importing used clothes and fabrics hurts our local industries”.

In September last year (2023) Kenya’s government hoped apparel tariffs would wean its consumers off luxury imported clothes and would support a domestic clothing and textile industry that had been harmed by foreign-made garment sales. 

However, Kenya’s apparel sector warned at the time clothing import tariffs would be a mistake.