Kenya plans pyrethrum industry comeback with Chinese help

Kenyan farmers, with training from a Chinese company, this year may grow 43 percent more pyrethrum, a white-petal flower used in the manufacture of insecticides, according to the state-run Agriculture Food and Fisheries Authority.

The East African nation was a global leader with 16,000 metric tons of the dried pyrethrum in 1992, according to data by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, but a market glut and mismanagement of the industry cut output to about 430 tons in 2013.

“There is a deficit even in the local market and the first stage to reviving the plant is to create a distribution of planting materials,” Alfred Busolo, AFFA’s interim Director-General, said by phone Thursday from the capital, Nairobi.

He expects production of about 1,000 tons this year, all of which will be absorbed by the local market, from 700 tons in 2015.

China’s Senju Company is researching the crop and training farmers on best practices, he said. It has also set up a nursery in the Rift Valley region of Eldoret to provide planting materials to local growers.

Industry collapse

Almost 25 years ago, pyrethrum prices collapsed following overproduction by Kenya, according to Justus Monda, chairman of the Pyrethrum Growers Association of Kenya that groups over 6,000 small-scale farmers. Mismanagement and the government’s failure to pay farmers nearly killed the industry, he said.

While the country wants to make a comeback, its re-entry has to be gradual and measured to avoid oversupply, AFFA’s Busolo said. Demand for pyrethrum has reduced to just over 10,000 tons, half of what it was in 1980s. This is against production of 8,471 tons in 2013.

“We don’t foresee an increase in global demand in the short to mid-term,” said Ian Folder, managing director of Botanical Resources Australia, which grows 60 percent of the world’s pyrethrum on Tasmanian plantations.

China, Rwanda and Tanzania produce much of the rest. Kenya, however, plans to take back some of that ground and increase its share to about a fifth from 2 percent.

Excess stock

A global shortage in 2008 led to insecticide manufacturers substituting pyrethrins, the main byproduct of the crop, with synthetic pyrethoids. The shift has yet to swing back, Folder said in e-mailed responses to questions.

An increase in production from Africa would only flood the market and further widen the price difference between natural pyrethrins and cheaper synthetic products being manufactured in China and India, Folder said.

“Given that pyrethrin has a defined shelf life and most, if not all, customers are already holding excess stock, we would suspect that it would be very difficult for Kenyan producers to move their stock and maintain a viable and sustainable business model,” Folder said.

– Bloomberg