Home > Counties > Nakuru secures a deal to establish pyrethrum factory

Nakuru secures a deal to establish pyrethrum factory

The County Government of Nakuru has secured a deal with an American firm Kentegra Biotechnology Limited to set up a modern pyrethrum processing factory by end of the year.

Governor Susan Kihika said the deal with the firm that has been purchasing flowers from farmers at competitive prices will support efforts to revive the crop in the region.

Kihika who has been spearheading the revival programme in the county stated that the most effective way to jump start the once lucrative pyrethrum sector is to unlock the bottlenecks along the value chain.

She noted that during its hey days the cash crop was regarded as the ‘black gold’ and was the third largest foreign exchange earner with the government pocketing in excess of Sh 18 billion annually during a good harvest.

“Kenya was harvesting more than 10,000 metric tonnes of dried pyrethrum flowers and supplying more than 75 per cent of the world production by 1961. At independence in 1963, pyrethrum was one of four major cash crops after coffee, tea and maize and this was reflected in our national coat of arms. As a county, plans are underway to embark on a massive campaign to urge the farmers to consider planting the crop once again,” observed the County boss.

She was speaking during a consultative meeting of key stakeholders in the industry that included a delegation of Kentegra Biotechnology Limited at County headquarters in Nakuru.

The firm started operations in Kenya after signing an investment deal worth more than Sh 498 million (US dollars 4 million) with the Kenyan Government in August 2017.

More than 3,000 farmers have been contracted by the company in Molo, Eburru, Nyahururu and Kisii.

Kihika pointed out that instead of opting for a flower variety that grows once a year, favoured by industrially famed nations, Kentegra has chosen a variety that produces a flower every two weeks for 10 months of the year.

This she added affords farmers regular cash flow (they are paid a week after delivery) and simultaneously protects their crop with a shorter growth cycle.

“Revival of agriculture is a key pillar in my government. We are focused on restoring pyrethrum farming as a sustainable source of income for farmers in the county. I had the privilege of visiting Eburru west of Naivasha where Kentegra has contracted over 1,000 farmers. Most farmers have planted ¼ acre holdings and are being paid Sh 200 per kilo of dried flower. The feeling of hope and restoration of dignity is visible on their faces,” stated the Governor.

The county chief said that her government was leading in action by training more extension workers and was working closely with research institutions including Egerton University and Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (Kephis) to realize the dream.

“We have a call center that is a one-stop center where pyrethrum and other farmers can have their questions answered in real time to spur development in this critical sector. Demand for the Kenya pyrethrum still remains high in the international markets. The European Union and the United States are keen on chemicals sprayed on horticulture products entering their markets and the local pyrethrum has a ready market owing to its high quality and low chemical use” said Kihika.

At the same time, she indicated that Kephis had now been cleared to certify all pyrethrum planting materials and assured farmers that cases of uncertified seeds would be a thing of the past.

She added that her government was also working closely with the Kephis to ensure the seeds supplied to farmers are certified and suitable for planting in specific areas.

Kihika advised investors in the lucrative industry to rethink their business model by ensuring they set aside enough money to pay farmers.

She noted that Governors of 18 pyrethrum-growing counties were keen on establishing an economic bloc to help revive the industry.

The counties where the crop is grown are Nakuru, Narok, Nyandarua, Nyeri, Meru, Laikipia, West Pokot, Uasin Gishu, Elgeyo-Marakwet, Nyamira, Kisii, Bomet, Kericho, Kiambu, Trans Nzoia, Murang’a, Kirinyaga and Bungoma.

Kihika cited under funding of the industry by counties and the national government as one of the main challenges that need to be addressed.

“The pyrethrum sector requires massive funding. Just like the way the government is spending billions of shillings in the coffee and sugar sectors, the pyrethrum industry must be allocated enough funds to save it from the quagmire,” she said.

Kenya became the most important supplier to the American market in 1940, shipping the flower in its dry form for processing in America to make a liquid which was, and still is the basis of the best household insecticide.

In 1945, the East Africa Extract Corporation (the subsidiary of Mitchell Cotts, a British trading conglomerate) built its factory in Nairobi’s Industrial Area which, in 1956, managed to achieve a 93 per cent extraction rate, the highest theoretical rate possible.

Pyrethrum production reached its peak in Kenya at 18,000 tonnes in 1993 from more than 200,000 farmers providing a livelihood to more than two million people. Both European and America markets consume about 80 per cent of the Kenyan pyrethrum.

However in the mid-1990s, the growing use of synthetic insecticides in America (Kenya’s largest market), which were cheaper, had led to declining demand for this commodity. Nevertheless growing environmental concern in developed countries over the use of synthetic insecticides contributed to a modest upturn in Kenya’s output in the late 1990s.

In the drought year of 2000, output declined by 14.7 per cent but an 8.6 per cent recovery was achieved in 2001 when Kenya produced 8,000 tons of dried pyrethrum flower.

While the weather and competition from synthetic insecticides were playing havoc on the pyrethrum industry in Kenya, there was a far more insidious enemy at work. The now-familiar elements of mismanagement and outright theft bedeviled the pyrethrum industry from the early 1990s.

As a result, the Pyrethrum Board of Kenya began to take as long as four years to pay farmers, processing factories were not maintained and became outdated, while laboratories and nurseries were abandoned making it difficult for farmers to obtain certified seeds.

The industry was brought to its knees and farmers lost hope and money. Production dropped from 11,000 tonnes in 2003 to a mere 250 tons in 2013.

By Anne Mwale

Leave a Reply