Kenya is the world’s largest producer and exporter of pyrethrum. Although Kenya produces the best quality pyrethrum in the world, the sector has been bedeviled by many problems that have contributed to the downfall of Kenya’s share in the world market from a high of 70 per cent to current less than 2 per cent.
In my childhood during the weekends and school holidays picking pyrethrum was my duty whereby my parents would pay me and my siblings 10 cents per kilo of pyrethrum to motivate us.
Mismanagement of Kenya’s once globally dominant pyrethrum industry has dealt a blow to the 250,000 or so farmers who used to grow the natural pesticide, many of whom have not been paid for several years, forcing them to uproot the crop. A drop in yields during the mid 1990s was due to high production costs, diseases and delayed payment by thePyrethrum Board of Kenya.
Pyrethrum is an important foreign exchange earner and a significant contributor to the economy. The growing demand for “organic” and “natural” pesticides has increased international demand for pyrethrum, despite the existence of synthetic chemical substitutes.
Diversification of growing regions as well as flexible seed programmes ensure availability of pyrethrum flowers at all times. Thus investment in production of flowers and seeds, in addition to processing of pyrethrin are assured of ready local, regional and international market.
The state’s monopoly on buying, processing and marketing the plant should be lifted. If there was competitor to PBK, there would be better pricing and payment. Pyrethrum has ready market but farmers need assurance of payment for their produce.
Kenya should replace synthetic insecticides with pyrethrum-based products to revive the sector. Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri) should undertake a study towards use of pyrethroids in Kenya to fight malaria.
Kenyans have a new opportunity to revive pyrethrum farming. A new body should be formed to work together with institutions like Kemri to add value to the crop. Improving factory operations and commissioning of new and modern machinery will go along way to revive the sector.
Adequate funding for the industry on research, processing and marketing will also help. The national and county governments should introduce favorable policy that will promotepyrethrum farming and use of its products these will motivate more farmers to invest in the sector.
The budgetary funding of miraa through the amended crops Act that has witnessed the allocation of Sh1 billion towards farming of the cash crop is not the solution to the problems faced by Meru farmers.
I agree with the lobby patron Mike Mutembei that the money will not solve their problems. After miraa crops banned in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands in 2014 the farmers suffered. Meru town is known for growing of miraa as a cash crop and it is their main source of livelihood.
The government should help the farmers recover the Sh5 million they had raised to file a case seeking to lift the UK ban. They should also craft laws that will help to open up new markets.