Revival of the pyrethrum sector in Kenya set to transform livelihoods

Elizabeth Mukuhi at her farm in Molo, Nakuru County

Elizabeth Mukuhi is a pyrethrum farmer in Turi, Nakuru County. Elizabeth who begun growing pyrethrum in April 2020 nostalgically recalls how pyrethrum farming sustained her family when she was young. It is through proceeds from the sale of pyrethrum that her parents educated her and her siblings. However, this changed when there were no longer buyers for the crop.

In the 1990’s, pyrethrum was the 3rd largest Kenyan export crop, providing an income to over 200,000 smallholder farmers. Kenya was controlling over 90% of the world pyrethrum market while today its share is 2%. Production of pyrethrum in the country declined from a high of 18,000 tons in 1992 to the current national production of less than 500 tons per year.

With AgriFI support, Crop Nutrition and Laboratory Services, an AgriFI awardee, has established an agri-clinic in Molo that is targeting to provide soil testing and agronomy advisory services to 5,000 farmers that are supplying pyrethrum flowers to Kentegra Pyrethrum Company Ltd, a co-applicant in the project.

Crop Nutrition and Laboratory Services has established an agri-clinic in the area where farmers are getting their soil tested and from that are provided with advice on how to improve the yield and the pyrethrin content in the flowers both driving better incomes for farmers. A digital advisory app has also been developed an is used to send reports and recommendations to farmers via SMS and WhatsApp. With the application of the right soil correction, fertiliser mix, integrated pest control and farming techniques for different soil types, smallholder farmers can increase pyrethrum yields and pyrethrin content over time and increasing their income.

Kentegra collects pyrethrum flowers from smallholder farmers like Elizabeth and processes it into PRE (Pale Refined Extract), required by international organic pesticides and insecticides industry. Since the AgriFI project begun in April 2020, Kentegra and CropNutrition have contracted 3,657 farmers to grow pyrethrum in Turi on an average of a quarter of an acre.

Before embarking on pyrethrum farming, Elizabeth grew maize and potatoes for sale. Pyrethrum has proven much more profitable as it is a hardy crop that requires little maintenance. Furthermore, she harvests the flowers weekly and is thus guaranteed payment twice a month. She started growing pyrethrum on a quarter acre which corresponds to the starter pack offered by Kentegra, however she has already set up an additional farm of ¾ acre and is planning to grow pyrethrum on additional land. Kentegra staff visits her regularly and the extension officers have helped her manage pests and disease in her crop. She is looking forward to receiving the soil test results to get even better results.

By following agronomic advice from Kentegra staff, Elizabeth has exceeded the projected yield for the area which is 45-50kgs per month as she harvests and sells 20 kilograms of dried flower every week from her ¾ acre farm. From this she earns a tidy sum of Kshs 16,000. She employs 7 casual labourers every week for a few hours to assist in harvesting once every week. She looks forward to building a permanent house for her family and buying a car.

The AgriFI Kenya Challenge Fund is supporting companies like CropNutrition to better integrate smallholder farmers and has so far awarded financial support worth EUR 17 million to 34 Kenyan agri-enterprises working in diverse value chains. This includes support to two companies to bounce back better and repurpose their business models in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.