The once-lucrative pyrethrum sector remains in a quandary despite initiatives to revive it, a new assessment report by Nakuru county shows.
There is improved production in eight out of the 11 sub-counties, namely Bahati, Subukia, Njoro, Kuresoi North, Kuresoi South, Gilgil, Naivasha and Molo, but statistics show the sector is far off from reclaiming its lost glory.
The acreage achieved so far is 802.5 acres with 2,445 farmers having received 17.3 million seedlings from four processors; Kentegra, Africhem Botanicals, Highchem and the county government.
Interestingly, even as it leads the initiative, the county government has only been able to enrol 557 farmers and distributed 3.06 million seedlings worth Sh12 million which were planted on 139 acres as at the end of 2018.
According to the County Integrated Development Programme (CIDP) for 2018—2022 launched on June 19, the county is supposed to plant 2,000 acres of the crop by December 2019 and with the current pace, the agriculture docket led by Dr Immaculate Maina must burn the midnight oil to increase productivity and woo more farmers who apparently are still hesitant to troop back to their farms to plant pyrethrum.
“It is a tall order, but I strongly believe it is achievable if we work along with our partners. As county alone may not be able to achieve much because of the unresolved issues still facing the growers,” said Dr Maina during the launch of the status report for the crop at Nakuru Agriculture Training Centre (ATC) on June 19.
Kentegra, an American firm, managed to contract 2,050 farmers and issued 11.2 million seedlings and achieved the highest acreage of 513 acres in Gilgil, Kuresoi South and Molo.
The biotechnology company is expected to pump Sh400 million in the sector following the signing of the investment deal with President Uhuru Kenyatta during his American tour last year.
The company is constructing a multimillion-shilling laboratory in Nairobi and has plans to put up a state-of-the-art refining plant in Naivasha.
Africhem, which has pitched tent in Gilgil, Naivasha and Molo managed to contract 333 farmers who received 2.6 million seedlings which they planted on 216 acres.
Highchem managed had a paltry 62 farmers who planted 539,000 seedlings on 24.5 acres.
The acreage under pyrethrum nurseries which are the bedrock of the production chain was slightly over 60 acres with Kentegra taking the lion’s share of 40 acres in Turi, Molo sub-County.
Africhem and Pypro planted 10 acres each in Kuresoi North and Bahati sub counties respectively.
Poor and low quality germinating clones and varieties, inadequate dissemination of information to farmers, diminishing staff coverage are some of the challenges facing the sector that at its peak raked in excess of Sh10 billion annually in foreign exchange.
Some of the 55 wards in the expansive county are served by a single extension officer.
Delayed payments and collection of dry flowers by some processors is making it difficult to convince unhappy farmers to increase acreage resulting into uprooting of the crop and opting to plant high value horticultural crops like potatoes, peas, cabbages and spring onions.
But the biggest challenge is lack of clean planting material and when it is availed to farmers its germination rate is poor.
Africhem field manager, Richard Ong’ao said in the last season they distributed 4.6 million seedlings and this season 1.6 million seedlings have so far been dispatched to farmers.
However, the germination rate of the seedlings which they acquired from the Nakuru-based Pyrethrum Processing Company of Kenya (PPCK) was worrying, he said.
“The growth rate was about 50 percent. PPCK is supposed to be the custodian of high quality planting materials,” said Mr Ong’ao.
Highchem Agriculture field officer Lameck Gitamo said they distributed seedlings across the county but too were concerned by the poor germination rate.
“We only achieved 40 percent germination rate out of the 22kg of seeds distributed to 32 farmers,” said Mr Gitamo.
Kentegra chief operations officer Scott Sweat said they been encouraging farmers to split the seedlings as they hope to loop in additional 1,000 growers.
PPCK production manager Carolyne Imbwaga, however, laid the blame with the farmers saying poor germination rate is related to poor agronomic practices.
“Seed sowing is critical and any slight mistake could lead to poor seedlings and PPCK would like to partner with processors to train them on seed sowing aspects to get good yeilds,” said Ms Imbwaga.
Ms Imbwaga said PPCK has so far distributed 150kg of seedlings this season to farmers.
All Green representative Peter Cheptumo echoed the sentiments of other processors saying the germination of the seeds they bought from PPCK was below par.
“The germination of seedlings bought from PPCK is frustrating despite being personally engaged in the sowing,” said Mr Cheptumo.
Dr Maina said the PPCK should address the low germination rate by sealing the gaps from the seed beds to packaging.
The high cost of making solar driers at farm level is also a hurdle as peak pyrethrum production coincides with the rainy season.
In the absence of extension officers to monitor the crop at the wards, growers do not use the recommended fertilisers and coupled with the climate change and declining soil fertility this has led to low pyrethrum yields and poor pyrethrin content.
The low prices offered by buyers is yet another hindrance that is slowing down the revival of the crop, which is one of the county flagshipship programme’s of Governor Lee Kinyanjui.
Kentegra buys flowers at a flat rate of Sh200 per kilogramme and last year took in over 32 tonnes of dry flower translating to more than Sh6 million income to farmers.
“This is the best price in the market so far because our aim is to give farmers hope and once we have enough flowers and our laboratory is up and running we shall pay farmers according to the pyrethrin content as we educate them to use the best agronomical practices to make good returns from their investments,” said Kentegra head of field operations, Micah Thuo.
Highchem buys flowers at a flat rate of between Sh140-Sh160 and last year they bought over 34 tonnes of dry flowers.
Newest players in the sub sector Majichem and All Green buys dry flower at Sh160 per kilogramme.
The financially troubled PPCK gives farmers advance payment of Sh100 per kilogramme with the balance is cleared later when the pyrethrin content has been determined.
“After determining the pyrethrin content the best price we have given so far is Sh162 per kilo and this has earned farmers more than Sh7 million as at February this year,” said Ms Imbwaga adding that production of eight million tissue culture seedlings is on progress for the next short rains.
The PPCK is the only processor that pays farmers according to the pyrethrin content. Others do not consider pyrethrin content and this has compromised the quality of the final product resulting into low market uptake in the international markets.
Nakuru County Assembly Agriculture committee vice-chairman Wilson Mwangi Wachira said the revival was taking too long.
“As a country we have been producing 50 metric tonnes per month since the revival process started in 2013 yet our neighbours Tanzania which was nowhere in the pyrethrum global map is now producing 300 mteric tonnes,” said Mr Mwangi.
He said the lack of quality planting materials and poor prices were the biggest hindrance to the revival of the sector.
“The fluctuating prices of dry flowers have seen many farmers shy away from the venture as they feel the processors are exploiting them,” said the Menengai East Ward rep.
He added that there was need for further research funding by the national government, noting that the Sh45 million allocated in the 2019/2020 estimates to boost productivity in the sector was hardly enough.
“It is unfortunate that the government is so keen on pumping Sh1.3 billion to boost miraa production in two counties while pyrethrum which is grown in 18 counties is allocated a drop in the ocean of less that one billion shilling,” said Mr Wachira.
Lack of refining plant among the processors was another challenge that has seen the quality of pyrethrin content dip to as low as less than one percent.
“It is sad some of the upcoming processors are forced to take their dry flowers to China, Madagascar, US for refining yet we have one of the best refining plant in Kenya that is lying idle at PPCK,” said Mr Mwangi.
He suggested that PPCK should work on a modality to allow other processors to use their refining plant at an agreed fee.
Dr Maina said there are a lot of opportunities for pyrethrum farmers if only the sector will be allocated more resource.
She said it was high time the national government comes up with the guidance policy on the use of the idle plant at PPCK saying “this is urgent and needed without further delay.”
“Pyrethrum is not one of the crops under the commodity fund that goes to other crops such as coffee, tea and sugar and therefore pyrethrum co-operatives are unable to access the funds to boost production,” said Dr Maina.
She said the proposed caucus of governors from the 18 pyrethrum growing counties should set up modalities of prices to loop in many growers.
Dr Maina revealed that Kenya Plants, Health Inspectorate Services (Kephis) has given industry players an additional year to clean their act on quality of seeds.
“After one year Kephis will demand to know the source and quality of seeds being distributed to farmers for planting,” said Dr Maina.
She said the national government should increase its funding to the Kenya Agriculture Research Organisation (Kalro) in unit Molo which is mandated with research on pyrethrum seedlings and varieties.
Processors such as Highchem and Kentegra are collaborating with local and international universities to develop new varieties.
Pyrethrum Growers Association (PGA) national chairman Justus Monda said processors should cultivate a close working relationship with farmers to clear the road blocks in the way of full recovery.
“We need to move this sector to the next level and void a lot of talk shop by state agencies and county and national governments,” said Mr Monda.
Molo Kalro centre director Dr Sammy Ajanga said research on pyrethrum is almost nil and there is need to work with processors to boost research work.
“An industry that has stopped producing new varieties for more than 20 years risks the potential of increasing production costs because using outdated varieties and agronomics processes will no boost production,” said Dr Ajanga.
Dr Maina urged the government to consider including pyrethrum farmers in the fertilisers subsidy saying the common inputs given out are not suitable for pyrethrum which requires special TPS fertilisers.
Agricultural Food Authority (AFA) Director- General Anthony Mureithi said the authority and the Ministry of Agriculture will do a cabinet memorandum to push for the revival of the industry.
“We shall partner with all industry players and involve youth and make sector attractive as many old farmers are being phased out through natural attrition,” said the AFA boss.
He agreed that the current planting materials are old and need to be revamped and we get clones that have more potential on pyrethrin content and productivity.
He announced that regulations guiding the industry will be out by end of July.