18 April 2016

Kenya: Thousands Quit Pyrethrum Farming As Fortunes Dwindle

Pyrethrum farmers in Nakuru and Nyandarua counties recall with nostalgia days when the crop was their economic mainstay.

However, the good old days are long gone as pyrethrum fortunes have clearly changed.

A visit to areas that grew the crop in the two counties shows farmers have abandoned it.

The number of farmers who grew pyrethrum has sharply dropped from about 300,000 in the 1980s to around 5,000 currently.

Farmers the Nation interviewed paint a picture of disillusionment that set in due to lack of payments for deliveries coupled with cartels that paralysed the sub-sector.

Ms Sarah Wathakwu, a spokesperson for pyrethrum farmers in Molo, says the growers uprooted the pyrethrum and planted other crops to sustain their livelihoods.

"I began growing pyrethrum in 1979. However, trouble started in 1992 after farmers failed to get their bonuses.

"Cartels also set in and began diverting farmers' money. This forced most of us to switch to cabbage and potato farming," Ms Wathakwu said.

MISMANAGEMENT

She blames the woes facing the sub-sector to mismanagement.

"Farmers are yet to be paid for produce they delivered to the Pyrethrum Board of Kenya (PBK) in 2012 and 2013," she said.

She explained that pyrethrum farming was the main source of income for most farmers in Molo and Kuresoi where the crop was grown in large scale because of the favourable cold weather.

Other areas where the crop was grown are, Bahati, Subukia, Eburru, Timboroa, Keringet, Naivasha (in Nakuru) as well as Oljororok and Mawingu in Nyandarua.

Mr John Kimani, a one-time director of PBK notes that in the 1980s, Kenya was the world's largest producer of pyrethrum with 17,500 metric tonnes of dried pyrethrum flowers per year.

"But this has now gone down to less than 700 metric tonnes," regrets Mr Kimani.

FOREIGN EXCHANGE

He notes that in the 1980s, pyrethrum was the sixth foreign exchange earner in Kenya after tea, horticulture, tourism, coffee and sisal.

Mr Kimani says Nakuru and Nyandarua counties have the capacity to produce over 50 per cent of the total pyrethrum in the country.

Many farmers say with devolution, they expected the sector to be revived but this is yet to happen.

In Nakuru, a plan to provide free seedlings that Governor Kinuthia Mbugua started is yet to bear fruit.

Farmers accuse the county government of failing to partner with experts to execute the project.

"The county failed to work with agricultural officers who are very experienced and understand how best to grow the crop for better returns. That is why the free seedlings have not helped farmers," says Mr Maina Muhoro, the secretary of Bahati Pyrethrum Growers Caucus in Nakuru.

The county government hopes to capitalise on renewed demand for the crop to create employment and generate more revenue.

However, farmers say a lot still needs to be down to convince them to go back to pyrethrum farming.

Mr Julius Njogu, a farmer in Nyandarua, recalls the days PBK paid them every month.

"It is a shame farmers are now sell the produce to brokers for less than Sh100 per kilogramme," he adds.

The farmers blame PBK for woes bedevilling the sub-sector and want an audit of the institution so that those responsible for fleecing them can be prosecuted.

Mr Njogu said he had uprooted the crop and left just a few plants hoping that the sector would be revived.

Kenya

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