Consistent demand for bixa seeds remain high in the country as poverty eats into most communities bordering large water masses as their land lie bare year-in year out, especially at the Coast
There is ready market for bixa, which is used as a natural food colour and coating pigment in medicinal drugs because of its annatto dye.
The red dye is also used in industrial manufacture of flooring materials, hair oils, shoe polishes, silk, ink, among other products.
Because of the little supply, a few farmers in Kwale County are contracted to supply bixa to one exporting company in the region, Kenya Bixa Limited.
The company buys a kilo of Bixa at about Sh45.
Demand for natural food colour pushes Kwale County to bixa farming
According to Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation Mtwapa station, bixa plant does well in warm humid areas with temperatures of between 32 degrees centigrade and 38 degrees centigrade.
This wild-looking plant does not require high fertile soils and it is resistant to most pests and diseases. But the soils should be well drained.
It requires areas of 2000m attitude and rainfall of 1250 mm-2000 mm per year. Farmyard manure of about 10 tonnes per acre is sufficient.
The plant is propagated either from seeds or vegetatively by using stem cuttings. Initially seeds are sown at a spacing of 25 x 10 cm and at a minimum depth of 2.5 cm because of their long taproots. Within 8-10 days, seeds germinate.
Seedlings are planted out from the nursery after about 4 months, when they are about 15-25 cm in height.
Pits of one foot are dug at a distance of 3m by 3m. When they attain height of one foot they are transplanted to the main field at the onset of the rains. On an average, 250 seedlings are planted per acre.
Must be done as often as possible to keep the young trees free of weeds, but care must be taken not to disturb the roots.
Pruning is done to produce a canopy that is easy to harvest.
Flowering and fruiting:
Plants start flowering in the first or second year of planting. To encourage good vegetative growth and for better performance of the plantation in subsequent years, flowers are plucked off in the first two years.
The plant continues to yield flowers for almost 15 years to 20 years. Though, the time of flowering differs with the form of species, the plants bearing fruits after 3 years of planting are reported to be of good quality.
In about 30 days of flowering, capsules begin to appear on the trees and after 90 days of appearing the capsules they mature and dry up. On maturity, the dried capsules make a rattling sound. Another indication is the formation of a crack at the stigmatic end of the capsule.
The first crop is obtained after three years of planting and the plants continue to give economic yield up to eight to 10 years under good management.
The dried capsules are harvested when the fruit capsules make rattling sound. If the capsules are not harvested at this stage, they burst out and there is heavy loss of seeds.
After collection the harvested capsules are sun dried for some time. Then the capsules are separated by beating with sticks. After that the seeds are sun dried, cleaned and packed in gunny bags.
A three year old plant on an average may yield about 0.5kg to 1.0kg of seeds per tree per year. The maximum yield is obtained from four to 10 years age plantation.
But with proper management, one can harvest up to 15kgs from one plant per year.