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Pyrethrum sector's woes deepen as State funding shrinks

Thursday December 12 2019
PYRETHRUMPIC

The main entrance of Pyrethrum Processing Company of Kenya Ltd in Nakuru on February 9, 2018. PHOTO| FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By FRANCIS MUREITHI

When Mr Joseph Waweru was appointed in an acting capacity as the managing director of the cash-strapped Pyrethrum Processing Company of Kenya (PPCK) in October this year, his appointment was refreshing as corruption took centre stage at the Nakuru firm. To many farmers, the appointment was seen as ray of hope to the sector.  

Mr Waweru, a former financial manager at the Agricultural Food Authority became the 11th chief executive officer of the State Agency.

EMPTY SHELL

However, Mr Waweru has inherited an empty “shell” that is a pale shadow of former itself.

He is also coming at a critical time when the government has maintained piecemeal reforms. Some of the regulations to streamline the sector are still gathering dust at the Agriculture ministry headquarters in Nairobi.

Lack of regulations is largely to blame for the persistent troubles in the sector. The pyrethrum sector provided 70 per cent of the global supply which earned the country more than Sh4 billion in foreign exchange in the 1980s and 1990s. Delayed regulations have seen many issues stay unresolved for decades as more than 200,000 farmers uprooted the crop in protest.

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Today, only about 30,000 farmers are cultivating the crop, producing a paltry 350 tonnes yearly. Earnings have declined to about Sh200million per year.

PPCK owes suppliers and workers more than Sh2 billion, forcing auctioneers to impound its vehicles.

PENSIONERS

PPCK owes statutory bodies such as Kenya Revenue Authority, pension schemes, cooperative societies, National Hospital Fund more than Sh2 billion in unremitted deductions from workers. The pensioners alone are owed more than Sh1.4 billion.

Mr Waweru inherited a collapsed system whose key sections in the revival process such as seeds and nursery units are dead. He also inherited a factory with outdated machines that cannot effectively process flowers.

MD

Acting Pyrethrum Processing Company of Kenya Managing Director Joseph Waweru at his Nakuru office on December 11, 2019 PHOTO | FRANCIS MUREITHI |NATION MEDIA GROUP

The 170 workers who are critical in the revival process are probably more troubled than the ailing sector. The demotivated workers gobble tax payers’ money since there is no meaningful production at the Nakuru factory. The last crushing of dry flowers at the factory was done in April this year.

A factory that was crushing more than 300 metric tonnes per month is today doing about five metric tonnes per month, putting its revival process at great risk.

Some of the employees are not qualified to hold positions they are occupying at the moment.

“The management gap in skills at senior level at PPCK is wanting and for higher productivity, qualified workers must be engaged,” said Pyrethrum Pension workers’ superannuation scheme spokesperson Harun Tinga.

Mr Tinga said the flower production is at its lowest ebb since the Nakuru-based company receives between 5 – 8 tonnes per month.

“PPCK needs to boost its crop extension services to woo more farmers,” said Mr Tinga.

He said the few farmers who are still loyal to PPCK are unhappy with the delayed payment which has accumulated for nine months. This has opened an exploitation window by the middlemen who buy the flowers at Sh100 per kilogram.

DEMORALISED

“Many farmers contracted by PPCK are so demoralised and are now working with the private players who are reaping the benefits of prompt payment

Mr Waweru is coming at a critical time when the government funding to PPCK has dropped. President Uhuru Kenyatta has assured the farmers that his government is committed to the revival of the sector.

In the last two years, the company has not received sufficient funds from the State yet the sector has potential to create thousands of jobs and boost the government’s Big Four Agenda on manufacturing. The sector is also able to generate up to Sh8 billion in direct earnings to farmers while revenue from the export of refined extract could earn the country another Sh6 billion in foreign exchange.

For more than a decade, the government has not appointed the board of directors to run the company. This has made the running of the firm a one-man show.

Instead, corruption looting of public resources and mismanagement of the company’s land asset worth Sh4 billion in the 18 pyrethrum growing counties has been rampant.  

CORRUPTION

“Lack of proper funding by the government and the absence of the board has affected the revival of the pyrethrum sector and is perhaps one of the loopholes the government must seal in its attempt to revive the sector,” said Pyrethrum Growers Association (PGA) national chairman Justus Mochache Monda.

“There is a huge opportunity for pyrethrum to regain its lost glory and be incorporated in the government’s Big Four Agenda as the world is moving away from synthetic materials and is embracing natural pyrithrin,” said Mr Monda.

But according to Mr Waweru all is not lost as he is seeking to ensure that farmers get enough planting materials by 2020.

“My main focus is to multiply planting materials to farmers. So far, we have been able to revive our seed nurseries in Molo, Marindas and Ngongangeri in Njoro,” said Mr Waweru.

He has also initiated the production of clonal materials at the tissue culture laboratory.

“By April 2020, we shall have enough planting materials to give to farmers and by June, we are optimistic of producing seeds for sale to farmers who want to set up their own nurseries,” said Mr Waweru.

According to Mr Waweru who reported on duty at the Nakuru factory on October 17, 2019, the main challenge derailing the revival process is regaining the lost confidence of the more than 200,000 farmers. Many farmers abandoned the crop due to prolonged delay in settling their dues.

He said he hopes to clear farmers’ dues should the government avail funds by next year.

 DRY FLOWERS

“The farmers I have interacted with in say their main concern is whether they would be paid when they deliver dry flowers,” explained Mr Waweru. The last payment to farmers was in April this year.

Finances is major challenge and what the government gives is spent on workers’ salaries.

“Since I came in October nothing special has been done in terms of financial facilitation and I am using the little savings from the income generated from PPCK housing units to run the company,” he added.

A number of processors have taken advantage of low flower production and lack of payment to farmers by PPCK and are buying flowers from PPCK-contracted farmers.

“Some of the private processors have illegally used our logo to hoodwink farmers and PPCK will be very cautious before engaging them,” said Mr Waweru.

The acting MD plans to work with all the 18 counties growing pyrethrum and already PPCK has engaged Nakuru and West Pokot governments.

PLANTING MATERIALS

“We have launched a nursery in West Pokot and we are distributing planting materials to farmers in the region,”. said Mr Waweru.

Nakuru County Minister for Agriculture Immaculate Njuthe Maina said despite the challenges in the sector, the revival process is still on course.

She said the campaign by the devolved unit has reignited interest in youthful farmers who have seen value in planting the crop in Eburu area in Gilgil Sub County.

This has enhanced income to young farmers who are paid promptly by the private players.

“We have seen new farmers who have never planted the crop embrace the crop and private players such as American firm Kentegra among others,” said Dr Maina.

The county government has released an updated pyrethrum growers’ manual to help farmers boost their production and support extension services.

The vice-chairperson of the Agriculture committee at the Nakuru County Assembly Wilson Mwangi Wachira said lack of regulations, rogue processors and lack of clean planting materials is killing the morale of farmers.

“Some processors have licences to buy dry flowers but have slowed down the purchase of the flowers from farmers who have huge stocks at home,” said Mr Mwangi a former PPCK employee.

He added: “If the processors do not buy dry flowers from the farmers in the next three or four months, farmers will incur huge loses.”

Most of the processors lack machines to produce refined product for export.

COSTSHARING

“The only company that has a refining plant is PPCK and most of the private processor are forced to take their materials outside the country for refining,” said Mr Mwangi.

The ward rep said the county government should utilise the Sh25 million in this year’s financial budget to buy planting materials for the farmers.

Dr Maina said devolved unit is planning to sell the planting materials to farmers at a subsidised rate as part of the cost sharing measure.

“We want our farmers to have that sense of ownership and that can only happen if they buy the planting materials at an affordable rate,” said Dr Maina.

Nakuru has so far achieved more than 800 acres with more than 2,500 farmers having received about 20 million seedlings from four processors; Kentegra, Africhem Botanicals, Highchem and the county government.

As 2020 beckons, it now remains to be seen whether the national government will set aside funds for the pyrethrum sector.

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