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Why Kenya should revive pyrethrum farming

Friday July 14 2017

A farm employee harvests pyrethrum in a farm in Nakuru.

A farm employee harvests pyrethrum in a farm in Nakuru. Globally, pyrethrum is viewed as an ideal pesticide in the environmentally conscious population and issues related to climate change and future environment. FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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Pyrethrum is a crop that produces pyrethrins used as natural insecticides. The crop has been grown in Kenya since 1928.

Kenya had been the dominant pyrethrum producer in the world market for 60 years until 2003.

Up to the late 1990s, Kenya was the world’s leading producer of natural pyrethrum, providing 70 per cent of the global supply.

In the 90s Kenya was controlling over 90 per cent of the world market compared to the current share of only two per cent.

Over time, production declined and Kenya lost the opportunity to Australia which took over the market with the island state of Tasmania taking over growing and processing in early 2000.

By 2010, Tasmania controlled 65 per cent of the world’s pyrethrum production. Others are China Rwanda and Tanzania who control the world market now.


At its peak in 1992/93 Kenya produced a record 17,710 tonnes of flowers. Nakuru alone as a county has the potential to produce twice this peak of production.

The bulk of the crop came from small-scale farmers in the highland high potential areas.

Although Kenya still produces the best quality pyrethrum in the world, the sector has been bedevilled by many problems that have contributed to its decline in the world market.

The sector provided valuable economic and social benefits to more than 200,000 subsistence and low-income farmers in Kenya.

Several shortcomings led to the collapse of the pyrethrum sector in Kenya, including failure by the soul buyer, Pyrethrum Board of Kenya (PBK), to pay farmers for the delivered flowers within acceptable timeframes (in some cases farmers waited for four years to receive payments), crop diseases, lack of investment in high quality planting materials, farming methods and crop research, and the reliance on one processor, PBK.


Kenya has potential to produce and process upwards of 20,000 MT of pyrethrum flowers to earn Sh7.5 billion for farmers per year and Sh5.8 billion in foreign exchange from the refined extract alone.

The pyrethrum sub-sector can provide a livelihood to two to three million people with direct or indirect linkage to PBK. PBK alone can employ at least 3,000 workers if utilised at its full capacity.

The policy and regulatory framework that has been operating creates confusion and does not favour revamping of the sector.

From 1938, the pyrethrum industry was governed by the Pyrethrum Amendment Ordinance which created the PBK.

The law was amended in 1964 with the enactment of the Pyrethrum Act CAP 340 (1964) that established the PBK and the Pyrethrum Marketing Board (PMB).

The two were later merged through another amendment in 1977 to recreate the PBK.

Kenya has a potential to produce and process
Kenya has a potential to produce and process upwards of 20,000metric tonnes of pyrethrum flowers to earn Sh7.5billion for farmers per year and Sh5.8billion in foreign exchange from the refined extract alone. FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP

The PBK was mandated to regulate the growing and licensing of pyrethrum in Kenya and carry out commercial functions in the sector.

In 2013, the Pyrethrum Act CAP 340 was repealed by the Crops Act 2013 and on the same day the Pyrethrum Act no. 22 of 2013 which established the Pyrethrum Regulatory Authority (PRA), was also enacted.

However, the Agriculture Foods Authority (AFA) Act, 2013 took over all the former institutions established under the repealed Acts including the Pyrethrum Board of Kenya.

The situation created where two regulatory bodies (AFA and PRA) have been provided for to govern an industry creates confusion and inconsistencies.

Amendments have been proposed to reinstate PBK as the regulator under AFA and to transfer the commercial functions to Pyrethrum Processing Company of Kenya (PPCK).


Despite the challenges facing the pyrethrum industry, it still has the potential to increase export earnings, promote industrialisation, and spur economic growth in Kenya as envisaged the vision 2030 where pyrethrum is identified as one of the sub sectors expected to significantly contribute to economic growth.

It is a crop which can be converted into a myriad of value added products. Every single product derived from pyrethrum becomes a raw material for other products.

National and County Governments Efforts in Reviving the Sector

Since the devolution of agriculture to counties, there has been a concerted effort by 18 pyrethrum growing counties in the country to revive pyrethrum growing.

These include Nakuru, Laikipia, Uasin Gishu, Nyandarua and Elgeyo Marakwet, among others.

Since independence, pyrethrum has contributed significantly to the economy creating numerous jobs in farms, transport, processing, and export earnings.

Currently a few farmers have small portions of the crop they maintained even after its production and marketing collapsed in early 2000.

Globally, pyrethrum is viewed as an ideal pesticide in the environmentally conscious population and issues related to climate change and future environment.

In Kenya, it’s a major cash crop to small scale farmers in several counties.

Nakuru County is working hand in hand with relevant stakeholders like Pyrethrum Processing Company of Kenya, (PPCK) -former pyrethrum Board of Kenya (PBK) and Highchem Agriculture.


Nakuru County for example has a mission of turning Nakuru white again by encouraging its farmers to intensify pyrethrum production as it used to be in the 1980s-1990s.

These county governments have tried to bring back the sector to its glory by: intensive trainings, availing of seedlings (splits and seeds), inputs, markets and continued support and awareness.

The Paradox Between Malaria Deaths and Pyrethrum Death in Kenya

Since pyrethrum is major source of malaria controlling product called natural pyrethrin, the decline in the sector could have contributed to rise in malaria in Kenya.

The paradox is that according to the Kenya Ministry of Health approximately 20 million are “at constant risk of malaria” and Malaria kills approximately 26,000 children per year in Kenya, and about 170 million working days are lost to malaria per year.

Malaria accounts for 30 percent of all outpatient attendance and 19 percent of all admissions to Kenyan health facilities. Approximately 70 percent of Kenya’s land is prone to malaria epidemics.

The regular epidemics occur in the western highlands. The semi-arid regions in the north-eastern and eastern parts of the country experience epidemics only during heavy flooding.

Julius Njogu in his seven acre pyrethrum farm
Julius Njogu in his seven acre pyrethrum farm in Ol Kalou, Nyandarua County. The revival of pyrethrum sector and processing of the flowers in cottage industries among pyrethrum producing communities would act as a direct way of controlling malaria epidemic and shifted supplies in full or part, to synthetic pyrethroids hence reduce their supply risk and save costs. PHOTO | JOHN GITHINJI | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Endemic areas are limited to areas primarily in the areas surrounding Lake Victoria, the floor of the Rift Valley, the central parts of the Eastern and Central provinces and Kenya’s coastal regions. These areas are major pyrethrum producing areas.

The revival of the sector and processing of the flowers in cottage industries among the pyrethrum producing farming communities would act as a direct way of controlling malaria epidemic, shifted supplies, in full or part, to synthetic pyrethroids to reduce their supply risk and save costs.

Currently the market is consuming approximately 60 per cent synthetic pyrethroids and 40 per cent natural pyrethrin.

The PBK processes and markets all of Kenya’s pyrethrum, of which over 95 per cent is exported.

Such strategy needs to change and reduce exports to 50 per cent and promote 50 per cent local consumption to reduce importation of synthetic pyrethroids which are sometimes not environmentally friendly like natural pyrethrum pyrethrin.

Prof Paul Kimurto is a Crop Expert, Dept of Crops Horticulture and Soils Egerton


What Needs to be Done

What are key issues that need to be addressed to reclaim the country’s lost glory?

  • Improve the stagnant production of less than 2,000 tonnes per annum by increasing production in the 18 counties which include Nakuru, Laikipia, Uasin Gishu. Nyandarua Elgeyo Markwet, Kisii and Trans Nzoia
  • Consolidate the industry to increase producers and buyers and overall value chain. For the market to remain sustainable, the quantity and quality of pyrethrum needs to be enhanced and maintained.
  • Strong need to improve the efficiency of the PBK’s operations and ensure national ability to provide leadership in sector through reduced mismagament and improved processing
  • Counties to support provision of adequate seedlings, establishment of nurseries and training and extension services
  • Generation of new technologies through better funding to research institutions like AFFA, Karlo and Universities.
  • Mitigation against climate change since frequent heavy rains and prolonged periods of drought present a problem for pyrethrum farmers, not only for agricultural production, but also for heath care as a growing number of regions are experiencing malaria epidemics for the first time.

Why Pyrethrum as an Insecticide

Some key characteristics of pyrethrins make it an extraordinary insecticide:

  • It is natural: Pyrethrins are naturally occurring compounds extracted from pyrethrum flowers. Natural pyrethrum provides a level of safety and environmental comforts to today’s generations.
  • Rapid Knockdown: Most formulators choose pyrethrins as a component in formulation because of its rapid
    insect knockdown effect on a wide variety of insect pests
  • A good Safety Profile: Pyrethrum has low mammalian toxicity and it’s safe even to the user
  • Non-Persistent: Unlike other chemicals pyrethrins lack residual effect. Therefore, this natural insecticide is often the choice active ingredient for use in sensitive areas of food handling establishments.