Will Matilda Sakwa turn around fortunes of struggling pyrethrum industry?

Former National Youth Service Director General Matilda Sakwa addressing the media during COVID-19 donations of PPEs. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

The Pyrethrum Processing Company of Kenya (PPCK) has been experiencing a change of guard every two to three years since 2009, changes which stakeholders say will impact on revival of the sector.

President William Ruto Thursday appointed former National Youth Service (NYS) Director General, Matilda Sakwa, as the new Chief Executive Officer of PPCK.

Ms Sakwa, who is yet to report to the State corporation which has its headquarters in Nakuru, will take over from Mary Ontiri who was appointed by former President Uhuru Kenyatta on June 9, 2021.

Ms Ontiri had taken over leadership of the company from Joseph Waweru who had been appointed by Uhuru in October 2019 to replace Paul Lolwerikoi whose dramatic removal came following graft allegations.

Both Ontiri and Waweru had been picked from the Agriculture Food Authority (Afa), but Ontiri had previously worked at PPCK, rising to management levels for over 30 years.

With Sakwa expected to take over the helm of the struggling company later this month, stakeholders in the sector have raised concerns over the frequent changes in the top management.

Harun Tinga, chairperson of PPCK pensioners said such drastic changes within such a short period of time derail efforts to revive the sector which was a top-dollar earner until its collapse in the early 2000s.

“Some of the bosses have been removed too soon before their efforts can take shape. New bosses come in and before they settle in, they are also removed, leading to lack of consistency,” said Tinga.

He explained that the CEOs who have been working closely with 18 pyrethrum growing counties have their unique approaches to matters affecting the sector.

“Some CEOs had vast experience in the sector having worked for PPCK. With their understanding of the troubles at PPCK, their contracts should be renewed to allow them enough time to bring transformation,” said Tinga.

According to him, the frequent changes make farmers get suspicious of a sector which they are still contemplating on whether to embrace again or not.

“Some CEOs establish a personal relationship with farmers but not long after, it gets severed. The revival is still dependent on building confidence with farmers which is severed with the routine changes,” said Tinga.

He however said that all is not lost and that they have hope in Sakwa moving the company and the sector forward from where her predecessors have left.

“There has been a lot of effort to revive the sector. Sakwa restored order at NYS when it had been linked to shocking graft cases. We hope she brings the same energy to PPCK without allowing loss of any progress that has been made,” said Tinga.

According to an auditor general's report, as of June 2021, the company owed its pensioners Sh2.02 billion and unremitted payee amounting to Sh200 million.

It further had Sh31 million in unremitted sacco dues, Sh223 million Afa support, Sh41 million owed to the sugar directorate, Sh16 million to the tea directorate and Sh83 million in land rates and rent.

During the same year, the company received Sh200 million from the national government as a stimulus package, Sh132 million for recurrent expenditure and Sh65 million for development.

"The amount received for development is far below the requirement of the company. The company hopes to raise enough resources from parent ministry, national Treasury and internally," Ontiri told the Auditor General in a letter dated July 4, 2022.

The report further revealed that the company distributed 5.3 million seedlings against a target of 3.73 million to farmers in central and south Rift regions, and another 300,000 in Nyanza.

“Through the efforts, we have established additional 535 acres of pyrethrum crop and 13 acres of seed fields. We contracted 1,038 new growers through a joint pyrethrum campaign in conjunction with county and national governments,” the report read.

Although the amount of flowers received has been improving, the company’s Sh305 million machine for crushing the flowers remains idle most of the time due to low supply.

The company made sales of pyrethrum products amounting to Sh44.2 million against a target of Sh81 million, a significant improvement compared to Sh3.9 million it made in 2020.

The sector however has the capacity to generate up to Sh5.8 billion annually from export of pyrethrin and its products.