Kapi managing director Ian Shaw. [Nanjinia Wamuswa, Standard]

For the last 14 years, Ian Shaw has been running Kapi Ltd - steering it into one of the region’s largest manufacturers of pyrethrum products.

This is after he settled in Kenya in 2008. The 58-year-old Nakuru-based firm (Kapi) used to own some of Africa’s largest pyrethrum farms but stopped in 2014 to focus on its core business of manufacturing.

Currently, Kapi buys flowers from farmers and extracts the pyrethrum for the manufacturing of organic pesticide products.

Mr Shaw, the firm’s managing director, labels Kenyan pyrethrum as the best in the world - making it the best raw material for quality products.

However, the sector faced some challenges forcing farmers to abandon pyrethrum for other crops.

“The fact that few farmers were in pyrethrum farming posed challenges to our manufacturing. We have to start working with farmers to revive and make it beneficial, as a source of income,” he says.

Mr Shaw says the firm is part of efforts to revive Kenya’s once-booming pyrethrum sector which was a key source of income for small-holder farmers in the Rift Valley region. 

Harvested pyrethrum at a farm in Kuresoi North. June 12, 2021. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

He explains that consumers around the world are now increasingly aware of the harmful effects of chemicals, particularly which are left as residues in foods they eat after being sprayed with pesticides.

Pyrethrum, he says, can produce organic and natural products. “We saw a huge gap in the market for a 100 per cent natural product that is safe and leaves no residues on food,” he says.

Using pyrethrum, the company formulated and launched Flower DS 4EC which is an effective biopesticide that is 100 per cent natural and an instant hit in the market.

“The first to come were large commercial farms exporting fruits, vegetables, flowers and nuts. European markets didn’t want chemical residues on their food imports and have enforced tough rules to minimise the harm to their citizens. Our product has zero residues and meets the maximum residue limits imposed by European markets,” adds Mr Shaw.

He says after dealing with large commercial farms, they realised they were leaving important people in the sector - the small scale farmers, who according to estimates are 74 per cent of the population living in rural areas and rely on growing a range of crops.

Often, smallholders come together into co-operatives to increase their chances of selling their harvest and this also provides markets for Kapi’s pyrethrum products. However, Mr Shaw notes that the challenge for smallholder farmers was accessing the products at a pocket-friendly price. To empower farmers to buy and use organic pesticides, Kapi started collaborating with the Kenya Organic Agriculture Network and has toured various parts of Machakos to meet farmers, conducting trials with their organic pesticides.

“Farmers planting mangoes, avocadoes and pawpaws had challenges with a range of pests and diseases on their crops. We carried out various trials with the farmers using two of our organic pesticides, Flower DS 4EC and Flower Dust and the results were remarkable,” says Shaw.

Pyrethrum farm in Kuresoi North. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

After seeing how effective the pesticides were, farmers warmed up to the products and are buying them. The company is now working on repackaging its range of organic products into smaller sizes that are affordable.

“We have also put in place a system for smallholder farmers to place orders, and make sure that the products can be delivered to somewhere they can collect them,” he says.

To maintain quality and keep the market, Mr Shaw says Kapi has invested big in research. “We live, sleep and breathe pyrethrum. For us, it is more than just a business. It is a quest, a mission, a passion. And that shows with the quality and efficacy of our products,” he explains.

Mr Shaw says that Kapi will continue to develop its export market and organisations focused on sustainable farming to widen its reach. He urged the State to give subsidies to farmers to stimulate the use of homegrown biopesticides, noting that it is possible to attain food security with safe pesticides.

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