Wahinya Henry @hwahinyas
Wilson Mwangi sells pyrethrum seedlings on his 15-acre farm situated near Nakuru town. After years of poor returns from the crop, Mwangi is upbeat good times are beckoning following steps by the Nakuru county and national governments to revive the pyrethrum sector.
“I saw a business opportunity and decided to seize it, having worked in the pyrethrum industry for many years,” says the chemist, who worked at the defunct Pyrethrum Board of Kenya (PBK) for nearly 20 years.
Mwangi sells the seedlings to farmers in 18 counties, who for years have been relying on splits to grow the crops. “Seedlings are far much quality than splits,” he says at his farm located about 10km from Nakuru town along the dusty Engashura–Mawanga Road where he is growing millions of seedlings.
The revival of pyrethrum production in the county is on course after the county and national governments put measures in place to kick-start the process.
The exercise picked up after Governor Lee Kinyanjui assumed office in 2017, with a pledge the sector would be one of the pillars for steering industrial growth in Nakuru town.
In his capacity as the chairman of the pyrethrum-producing firms, Kinyanjui has prioritised revamping of the sector through a multi-sectoral approach, a commitment that also attracted private sector participation.
The county government recently set the ball rolling by distributing 3.3 million pyrethrum seedlings to farmers in Kinungi, Naivasha sub-county..
“Revival strategies initiated under the leadership of the governor have started bearing fruits with more farmers embracing the crop,” says Immaculate Maina, Nakuru’s minister for Agriculture.
“Farmers are optimistic the sector will soon recover following the measures undertaken by the county government,” she adds.
Dr Maina said the county administration had agreed with firms buying the dried flowers that farmers should be paid within 30 days upon delivery. She challenged farmers to organise themselves into cooperatives so that they can reap more from their work.
“If the farmers are not paid promptly, they should raise complaints and are free to come to our offices,” she said.
The county government’s efforts have since received a boost from the private sector following the establishment of a 45-acre seedbed in Molo. Established by Kentagra Biotechnology Limited, the farm aims at growing seedlings to be distributed to farmers for free within Nakuru county.
According to Peter Mwaura, chief technical officer at Kentegra, supplies of seedlings to farmers would translate to 4,500 acres of pyrethrum plantation. Between 20,000 and 30,000 farmers are targeted annually. ‘Besides taking advantage of liberalisation by the government, the efforts aim at returning the “white gold” to Nakuru county,” he says.
Francis Githinji, a farmer, regretted that before liberalisation, farmers grappled with delayed payments, lack of incentives and exploitation by players in the value chain.
He hopes that with the entry of various private companies, the competition will facilitate prompt payment of farmers, high-quality seedlings and more incentives to the farmers.
The Pyrethrum Revival Programme was launched at Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (Kalro) site in Molo with hopes of restoring the country to its former glory as of the largest producer of pyrethrum in the world.
Until the sub-sector went under, Kenya was a major producer of pyrethrum in the world, accounting for 70 per cent of the total supply.
The State has now established regulations to ensure that crop deliveries are paid for within 15 to 30 days as a way of encouraging production. Most of the crop is meant for export with the local market consuming less than two per cent.
Statistics from the Pyrethrum Directorate indicate that the volumes of flowers supplied to the Nakuru-based processor dropped from 390 metric tonnes in 2014 to 290 metric tonnes.
In 2014, pyrethrum exports earned Sh200 million. In 2015, Kenya received Sh207 million from the crop and Sh120 million last year. Currently, the Nakuru factory operates at 10 per cent of capacity due to inadequate suppliers of flowers.
The Pyrethrum Directorate has been in the process of registering processing firms as it opens up the market for the private sector to inject new capital into the ailing industry.
They include Chinese firm Senju Development Company (Uasin Gishu county) and Botanical Company based in Athi River, Highchem East Africa and Orion.
Pyrethrum was previously classified under scheduled crops and only the government, through the Nakuru plant, was allowed to trade in the crop. In 2014, liberalisation gave room for private companies.
Privatisation is one of the moves by the State to revive the ailing sector. However, investors seeking a processing certificate must have secured at least 300 acres for development of the crop. They must also contract 300 farmers to ensure consistent supplies.