Pyrethrum Farming in Kenya:- Kenya is the world’s largest producer and exporter of pyrethrum, a ﬂower that contains a substance used in pesticides. The pyrethrum extract, known as pyrethrum is derived from the ﬂower’s petals.
Pyrethrum is grown for its natural pyrethrins which are used in formulating insecticides. The pyrethrins attack the nervous systems of all insects. The use of Pyrethrum as an insecticide is advantageous over other insecticides in that it has repellent effect on insects, exhibits rapid “knockdown”, and is non-persistent in the environment since they break down on exposure to light or oxygen.
Pyrethrum farming in Kenya dropped in yields during the mid—1990s was due to increasing production costs, disease damage, and delayed payment by the Pyrethrum Board of Kenya (PBK). The growing demand for “organic” and “natural” pesticides has increased international demand for pyrethrum, despite the existence of synthetic chemical substitutes.
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Pyrethrum is an important foreign exchange earner and a significant contributor to the economy. Kenya is the leading producer of pyrethrum extract.
Climatic condition suitable for growing pyrethrum are found in four major regions in Kenya-Lake Victoria, North Rift Valley, South Rift Valley and the Mt. Kenya region. Any shortfall in production in one region due to bad weather can be supplemented by higher production in other regions
Diversification of growing regions as well as flexible seed programmes ensure availability of pyrethrum flowers at all times. Thus investment in production of flowers and seeds, in addition to processing of pyrethrin are assured of ready local, regional and international market
The growing demand for organic and natural pesticides has increased international demand for pyrethrin.
Pyrethrum Farming in Kenya – Ideal conditions
Rainfall – Pyrethrum requires a minimum of 750mm of rainfall well spread over the season.
Altitude – an altitude of 2,000 meters above sea level is required.
Temperature – changes in temperature affects the content of pyrethrin.
Land preparation – The land should be well tilled to allow easy penetration by roots. All weeds should be removed and Ploughing should be done during dry months to help destroy stubborn weeds.
Seed selection – Farmers should select seeds based on their agro- ecological zone.
Planting – pyrethrum should be spaced 2 feet inter- row (from row to row) and 1 feet intra-row ( from plant to plant).A table spoon of Triple Super phosphate fertilizer should be used per plant and mixed thoroughly with soil to avoid scorching.
Topology – pyrethrum should be planted on hilly and well drained areas since it does not tolerate water logging.
Transplanting – Pyrethrum should remain in the ground for three to four years after which it should be uprooted and transplanted in a new field.
Pest and Diseases – Nematodes and several other pests such as thrips, aphids, red spider mites attack pyrethrum thus affecting the production.
Pyrethrum Farming in Kenya – Production
One hectare accommodates 52,000 plants producing about 1,000kg of dried pyrethrum flowers annually. This quantity yields about 25kg of highly refined extract. Ready flowers are picked at intervals of two weeks with picking continuing for nearly a year from July to April. Although pyrethrum is a perennial crop, a typical plantation lasts for three to four years.
Flower picking should be done every two weeks. The flowers are picked when the ray florets have opened to horizontal position and about three rows of the disc florets are open. Flowers with all the disc florets open and those at the early overblown stage should also be picked as they also contain appreciable amounts of pyrethrins.
Harvested flower heads are sun-dried under small scale production and artificial drying may be used in large scale production, and in cloudy weather and delivered through rural co-operatives to the centrally located factory of the Pyrethrum Board of Kenya (PBK). Farmers are paid according to the weight and pyrethrin content of their harvests.