Hope for pyrethrum farmers

Mary Ontiri

Mary Ontiri the Acting MD Pyrethrum Processing Company of Kenya at her office on February 14.

Photo credit: Francis Mureithi | Nation Media Group

The Pyrethrum Processing Company of Kenya (PPCK) in Nakuru is the biggest such unit in the world. However, the plant is largely dormant and its revival has started. PPCK Acting MD Mary Ontiri spoke to Nation.Africa.

Is the pyrethrum sector moving in the right direction?

The sub-sector is heading the right direction. Farmers are now being paid promptly after governance challenges were addressed. The industry operated without a substantive board for more than 15 years. There is a board in place now. The industry was performing regulatory and commercial functions but the two have been separated. Production is steadily increasing.

Despite government intervention, there’s still a great deal of uncertainty about what is happening in the sub-sector. Why?

The sector is not yet out of the woods. The elephant in the room is the Sh2 billion pensioners’ outstanding dues. PPCK has presented the issue to the government. We did a Cabinet memo and gave a list of land assets we can dispose of to clear the arrears. The board hopes the government will address this matter.

You have been at the helm of PPCK for a year and a half. What are some of the milestones pyrethrum farmers are proud of?

PPCK fully supports farmers. An acre takes about 22,000 seedlings, which cost Sh66,000. We have taken that burden from growers. PPCK now offers free seedlings and this has increased our acreage from 2,500 to more than 6,000.

Production has increased from 61 tonnes to 173 tonnes. We hope to hit 250 tonnes by the close of this financial year. Our projection is 400 tonnes in the 2023/24 fiscal year and expect to be self-sustainable by 2025. Our producer price is Sh230 to Sh600 per kilo, based on quality.

For long, Kenya has relied on the international market alone. Has this changed?

That has changed. Fifty per cent of production goes to the global market and the remaining is retained in Kenya. This has helped the PPCK step up its value-addition production lines.  With this kind of business model, we make 10 per cent more than we used to. It is dangerous to put all your eggs in one basket. We need to have a  fallback plan when the international market is saturated.

Farmers have been receiving piecemeal payments in the past. Has this situation changed?

PPCK has cleared farmers’ arrears going back to 2003. If there are farmers who have supporting documents and have not been paid, I urge them to come to PPCK. We will give them all their dues after verifying the documents.

One of the biggest challenges facing pyrethrum farmers is lack of clean planting materials. What is PPCK doing to address this problem?

We have increased the production of clean planting materials by more than 90 per cent. PPCK has also revived its nursery and improved seed production from 180 to 550 kilogrammes. We have contracted tissue culture propagators and provided them with genetically clean material for multiplication. We also procure seedlings from commercial nursery operators. This has seen us double land under pyrethrum to 6,000 acres.

West Pokot County has overtaken traditional pyrethrum-growing regions like Nakuru, Nyandarua and Kisii. What is the magic?

West Pokot maintained the original planting materials received from the PPCK. Authorities in the region did not allow farmers to use material from unknown sources. Farmers apply the recommended agronomical practices, including planting, picking and drying of flowers and weed control. This has led to good production. Prompt payment has motivated young farmers too.

Nakuru has the largest pyrethrum processing unit in the world yet it is largely underutilised. Why?

Lack of enough material has been a challenge for years. The factory requires 100 tonnes of dry flowers to run. Before the close of this financial year, we hope to have 300 tonnes. In the next financial year, we expect to double the volumes. We should be doing production on a monthly basis in the 2025/26 fiscal year. The factory has the potential to do 20,000 tonnes.

What value-addition is PPCK engaged in?

We have several products that fit into the local agro-processing industry. We make pesticides and products that kill ticks and mosquitoes.

Fresh crop producers are making use of our products, which have minimal residue as they are natural.

Kenyan pyrethrum is considered one of the best in the world. Do we still maintain these standards?

Pyrethrum in the international markets is sold through registration as it is classified as a poison by the UN. The country has maintained these standards through tight formulation.

With the industry liberalised, does PPCK feeling threatened?

Competition is healthy. It expands the market. We welcome competition. Farmers can choose where to sell their pyrethrum.

What other incentives has PPCK given to farmers?

Our producer prices are the best in the market. PPCK is paying farmers up to Sh600 per kilo compared to our competitors who fork out Sh200. We give an advance payment of Sh230. Our planting material is of high quality. We do soil testing for our farmers for maximum production. We have established nuclear farms in Kericho, Nyandarua and Nakuru counties where land is leased to farmers to boost production.


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