Farmers back to pyrethrum, coffee after potato heartbreak

Pyrethrum farmer Paul Kipruto at his farm in Metibelio, Elgeyo Marakwet County in July 2023. [Stephen Rutto, Standard]

After potato prices heartbreak, Elgeyo Marakwet County farmers are now turning to cash crops abandoned for nearly two decades.

From pyrethrum to coffee along the Elgeyo Marakwet and enhanced mango production in the drought-prone Kerio Valley, a cash crop craze is sweeping through a county that is among the devolved units that received the least allocations of equitable share.

County statistics indicate that more than 2,000 smallholder farmers from Kapyego, Embobut, Sambirir, Kapyego, Lelan, Sengwer, Metkei, Kapchemutwa, Moiben Kuserwo, Kapsowar, Cherangany Chebororwa, Kamariny, Chepkorio, Kabiemit, Kaptarakwa, upper Emsoo and Tambach have been directly contracted by buying companies to grow pyrethrum in 1000 acres of land in the last six months.

The areas were among the highest potato-producing zones but reduced acreages to grow pyrethrum after the former fetched higher prices per kilogram.

In 2021, farmers sold potatoes to middlemen at as low as Sh400 per 90 kg bag, sparking uproar.

Moben Kiserwo-based pyrethrum farmer Paul Kipruto said he was earning Sh275 per kilogram and has been making Sh27,000 every week from his one-acre farm.

“I harvest an average of 100 kilograms of pyrethrum flowers per week during the peak season, which translates to an average. I am a potato farmer as well, but I am reducing the  potato acreages because the prices are fluctuating,” Kipruto said.

He added, “During the harvest season, middlemen buy potatoes at prices as low as Sh500 per 90Kg bag. Pyrethrum prices are stable, unlike in the 1990s and 2000s.”

Farmers in parts of Cherangany/Chebororwa, Tambach, Soy South, Kabiemit, Sambirir, Embobut and Kamariny are beginning to earn from coffee.

Nicodemus Kutto, a farmer in Mogoiywo Village in Cherangany-Chebororwa Ward is among our farmers who have benefited from the sale of their coffee berries.

“We are back to the old days when coffee was the biggest earner and one of the best cash crops,” said Kutto.

Last month, Elgeyo Marakwet got support from the State Department for Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASALs) which distributed 50,000 mango seedlings to farmers across seven Wards along the Kerio Valley belt.

The seedlings were distributed in Kabetwa, Chesongoch, Sangach, and Kabaldamet in Endo Ward as well as Mogil and Chesetan in Sambirir ward.

Farmers Kapkata, Koitilial, Chepkum, and Tunyo in Arror Ward and other areas such as Emsoo, Chegilet, Tambach, Rimoi, Songeto, Kipcheptem, Emsea, Chepsirei, and Kabulwo are some of the areas where farmers returning to coffee.

Elgeyo Marakwet Governor Wisley Rotich said the establishment of a pyrethrum factory in Naivasha has expanded the market for the crop.

Rotich said his administration has been supplying quality pyrethrum and coffee seedlings.

The Kentagra factory is expected to process over 300,000 tonnes of pyrethrum by the end of the year, according to reports during the launch in June.