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Wonder crop that colours my pockets

Friday July 4 2014

One of the Bixa farmers in Shimba Hills Kwale

One of the Bixa farmers in Shimba Hills Kwale County Mr Michael Mutinda holds passion fruits that he grew along with the Bixa plants at his farm during the interview with the Nation. Photo GEORGE KIKAMI.  

BOZO JENJE
By BOZO JENJE
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From a distance you may mistake them as coffee trees complete with the berries.

However, the two plants are worlds apart. This is Bixa, known at the coast as ‘mrangi’ because of its bright red fruits, which contain numerous seeds.

As they ripen, the fruits dry and harden into brown capsules.

The fruit is harvested for its seeds, which contain bixin, used for colouring cheese, fish, salad oil, margarine and cosmetics like lipsticks.
The Bixa tree was introduced in the coast region in 1970s.

“I have been growing Bixa for over four years now. It is a good crop since I am getting good income from it,” says Michael Kusonga, the owner of a six-acre Bixa farm on the foot of Shimba Hills in Kwale County.
The crop is disease- and pest-free and is drought resistant.

“One plants seedlings. You prepare the farm normally and then dig holes about a metre apart and plant the crops. They take nine months to mature.”

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In the first year after maturity, one harvests 2kg of Bixa seeds from each plant. However, harvest rises to 16kg after three years.
An acre takes about 300 Bixa trees and harvesting occurs by cutting mature pods from the tree.

The pods are then dried and eventually threshed to produce the seeds which are then cleaned, dried and packed in gunny bags ready for collection.

The waste from the process can be used as manure

numerous seeds.

As they ripen, the fruits dry and harden into brown capsules.

The fruit is harvested for its seeds, which contain bixin, used for colouring cheese, fish, salad oil, margarine and cosmetics like lipsticks.
The Bixa tree was introduced in the coast region in 1970s.

“I have been growing Bixa for over four years now. It is a good crop since I am getting good income from it,” says Michael Kusonga, the owner of a six-acre Bixa farm on the foot of Shimba Hills in Kwale County.
The crop is disease- and pest-free and is drought resistant.

“One plants seedlings. You prepare the farm normally and then dig holes about a metre apart and plant the crops. They take nine months to mature.”

In the first year after maturity, one harvests 2kg of Bixa seeds from each plant. However, harvest rises to 16kg after three years.
An acre takes about 300 Bixa trees and harvesting occurs by cutting mature pods from the tree.

The pods are then dried and eventually threshed to produce the seeds which are then cleaned, dried and packed in gunny bags ready for collection.

The waste from the process can be used as manure. Kusonga harvests about 2,560kg a year and sells directly to Kenya Bixa Ltd at Sh45 per kilo. Processing of Bixa seeds, according to the farmer, is intensive.

“I engage about 10 people to assist me do the work. One has to separate the seeds from the pods through threshing. But I can’t complain because of the reward,” says the farmer, who also grows passion fruits on Bixa trees.

He says he switched to Bixa because he was losing maize crop and harvest to elephants. “But with Bixa, I have overcome the problem.”

Kenya Bixa agri-business manager Stephen Tembo says they support farmers through provision of free seedlings, extension services and training.

“We buy the harvest from farmers, thus offsetting the costs of transportation to the factory.”

The company also guarantees farmers loans from different financial institutions.
Tembo says the market is huge as it exports Bixa powder to Denmark, USA and Japan.

Bixa seeds waste and chicken droppings are mixed to produce organic fertiliser that is given to farmers.

An industrial crop

“We provide farmers with odourless, environment-friendly fertiliser that can be tailor-made for customers’ soil needs.”

There are two Bixa seasons in a year. The crop does well in the and is mainly grown in Kwale, Mswambweni, Lamu, Malindi and Kiunga, near the Somalia border.

Matuga Kenya Agricultural Research Institute officer Finyange Pole says Bixa is crucial for Kwale County, although many people don’t grow the crop.

He notes farmers are finding it hard to get financial support because it is an industrial crop that cannot be consumed directly.

“Kari has prepared a proposal to be shared with the county government on how to revitalise Bixa growing from production to value addition so that farmers may fetch better prices,” Tembo says.

. Kusonga harvests about 2,560kg a year and sells directly to Kenya Bixa Ltd at Sh45 per kilo. Processing of Bixa seeds, according to the farmer, is intensive.

“I engage about 10 people to assist me do the work. One has to separate the seeds from the pods through threshing. But I can’t complain because of the reward,” says the farmer, who also grows passion fruits on Bixa trees.

He says he switched to Bixa because he was losing maize crop and harvest to elephants. “But with Bixa, I have overcome the problem.”

Kenya Bixa agri-business manager Stephen Tembo says they support farmers through provision of free seedlings, extension services and training.

“We buy the harvest from farmers, thus offsetting the costs of transportation to the factory.”

The company also guarantees farmers loans from different financial institutions.
Tembo says the market is huge as it exports Bixa powder to Denmark, USA and Japan.

Bixa seeds waste and chicken droppings are mixed to produce organic fertiliser that is given to farmers.

An industrial crop

“We provide farmers with odourless, environment-friendly fertiliser that can be tailor-made for customers’ soil needs.”

There are two Bixa seasons in a year. The crop does well in the and is mainly grown in Kwale, Mswambweni, Lamu, Malindi and Kiunga, near the Somalia border.

Matuga Kenya Agricultural Research Institute officer Finyange Pole says Bixa is crucial for Kwale County, although many people don’t grow the crop.

He notes farmers are finding it hard to get financial support because it is an industrial crop that cannot be consumed directly.

“Kari has prepared a proposal to be shared with the county government on how to revitalise Bixa growing from production to value addition so that farmers may fetch better prices,” Tembo says.