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How use of solar power has enabled pyrethrum farmer to reap big returns

A technician installing solar panels
A technician installing solar panels. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

It is mid-morning as an eerie silence envelops the hilly village of Kiambogo in Nakuru County.

A part from the cool breeze which occasionally competes with the sweltering heat in Gerald Nyamweya’s pyrethrum farm, it is impossible to miss the undulating view of the Mau Forest.

While most farmers in the village shifted focus to dairy and horticultural farming, which they considered profitable, Nyamweya stuck to pyrethrum farming and still with it.

Nyamweya, 56, has been growing pyrethrum for the last two decades and over time has seen the pyrethrum sector go through a roller-coaster.

“Most farmers in this village used to grow pyrethrum in large quantities. Those days I could use the statements from Pyrethrum Board of Kenya to pay school fees for my children,” recalls Nyamweya while pointing to an abandoned building that used to be a pyrethrum collection point in Kiambogo.

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Nyamweya says pyrethrum, unlike other crops that only thrive during the rainy season, is picked throughout the year boosting farmers’ livelihoods. The crop produces pyrethrins used as natural insecticides.

He grows K122 and P4 varieties of pyrethrum on an acre, and intercrop maize and beans on another two acres.

Recently however, he has found a new formula for producing high quality flowers by using solar dryers. The drying technology also helps him in minimising post-harvest losses.

“I started using this technology after a training conducted by BuildAfrica in 2014. Members of Kahuroko Pyrethrum Growers Self Help Group were trained on the importance of solar drying, pyrethrum plant health and table banking,” he explained.

Solar technology is good for drying pyrethrum flowers as it helps in maintaining the colour and pyrethrin contents, unlike the traditional sun drying technique.

Additionally, solar-drying boosts the safety and quality of flowers due to low temperatures which does not destroy the contents.

The solar dryer is a simple greenhouse-like structure that uses solar energy to dry the pyrethrum flowers which are later packed and stored for sale.

The farmer explains that solar dryer is made of ultraviolet-treated polysheets, which let in light, the same ones used in making greenhouses. The raised shelves inside the unit are made of wood and nets.

The structure also has a ‘breather’ a small opening covered with the black web mesh whose role is to allow air circulation and regulating humidity.Construction of the solar dryer structure cost him about Sh12,960. The solar dryer he says has enhanced his income because he sells quality flowers.

He sell a kilo of the flowers at Sh140 during peak period. “Peak picking period starts from the month of May and the harvesting continue for seven months, picking an average of 40 kilogrammes per harvest conducted after every two weeks,” says Nyamweya who sells his flowers to Nakuru-based HighChem Agriculture.

“The use of this innovation helps in maintaining of pyrethrin content of the dried flowers. In direct sunlight drying technique, the flowers lose content and its colour fades fetching low price in the market,” he adds.

To grow pyrethrum, one plants a clone, waits for three months and starts picking flowers. After the three months, the crop continues to be harvested after every two weeks.

“I bought four of the 125 grams sachet of the seedlings at Sh300 each totaling to Sh1200.

“I then prepared a seedbed next to a source of water to aid in wetting the seedbed.

“This is followed by placing the seeds at sixinches from row to raw and then the application of mulch,” he explains.

Watering should continue for two weeks as the seedbed is raised to provide shade.

At the height of six inches, the plant is ready to be transplanted to the farm.

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