Locally known as “mrangi”, for its bright red fruits that have numerous seeds, Bixa is a cash crop introduced into Kenya’s Coast region in the 1970s.
Jeremiah Kilalo, 68, a former sales and marketing officer at Nestle, grows the crop on a full-time basis at his farm in Mrima, Kwale County.
He has been a bixa farmer since 2014, and the crop occupies three acres of his farm.
“At first I got 1,000 seedlings from Tiwi Bixa Limited. The planting starts in May and the farm should be free from weeds,” says Mr Kilalo.
The farmer intercrops the bixa tree with maize and beans but has to stop when the crop starts to be bushy.
The plant matures fully in about four to five years but could be harvested from about one year in the farm.
The spacing is 5m by 5m between each stem and the rows to allow the crop to grow tall and bushy.
The spacing also allows the farmer and workers to move freely when pruning for rejuvenation and increase its harvesting period and lifespan.
“The crop is disease and pest-free and is drought resistant. As they ripen, the fruits dry and harden into red capsules,” said Mr Kilalo.
Mr Kilalo harvests about 3,000kg per year and sells directly to Kenya Bixa Ltd at Sh65 per kilo.
The fruit is harvested for its seeds, which contain bixin, used for colouring cheese, fish, salad oil, margarine and cosmetics like lip sticks.
“Harvesting involves cutting of mature pods from the tree,” said Mr Kilalo.
The bixa fruit is harvested for its seeds, which contain bixin, used for colouring cheese, fish, salad oil, margarine and cosmetics like lip sticks. PHOTO | WACHIRA MWANGI | NMG
The pods are then shade-dried and eventually threshed to produce the seeds that are cleaned, dried and packed in gunny bags ready for collection.
“The seed should not be dried on bare ground. Soil and sand stones should be avoided,” said Mr Kilalo.
The bixa seeds are cleaned, dried and packed in gunny bags ready for collection by the procurement team. The waste from the process can be used as manure.
Bixa seed waste and chicken droppings are mixed to produce organic fertiliser that is given to farmers.
Mr Kilalo urges farmers who have uprooted bixa tree from their farms to reconsider planting afresh.
“The bixa industry is resuming and the farmers in the coastal region should use the opportunity,” he said.
Bixa crop is one of world’s most important natural colourant. It makes for about 70 per cent of world’s natural dyes.
There are two bixa seasons in a year and crop is a shrub that grows to between two and three metres high and can germinate from seeds or cuttings.
Experts say the crop matures fully within four to five years and has economic life of 20 years but can be harvested even after one year in the farm.
A bixa farmer in Shimba Hills, Kwale County. The bixa crop is locally known as “mrangi”, for its bright red fruits that have numerous seeds. FILE PHOTO | NMG
Ideal climatic conditions are humid, hot and wet and the recommended spacing for the tree is four by four metres.
A tree can stay up to 24 years. A young crop will start production after one of planting and peak production of over 8kgs/tree achieved by the third year.
In Kenya, Bixa Orellana has been one of the four major cash crops in Kwale and one of the seven major cash crops in Lamu.