Ever wondered by Del Monte grows pineapple in Thika and why it doesn’t take any grown by smallholders?
The story goes many years when some pioneer farmer first grew some pineapples in Karimoni, Thika in 1920s and they thrived well. An earlier attempt to plant them near Nairobi had flopped.
But it was not until 1949 that a company was established in Thika by two businessmen to supply fresh fruits to Nairobi and other settler-dominated towns. The demand grew fast and this company was taken over by Tancot group which established Kenya Canners company as a thriving enterprise in Thika.
Kenya Canners was to can the fruits and was to rely on smallholder schemes to supply the fruits for canning and export. The small holders were paid 15 dollars per tonne which would translate to Sh1,560 at the current rate.
As the factory and demand expanded, more farmers got interested in growing a cash crop. The company worked with the colonial government in recruiting more farmers especially in Gatundu, Kiambu.
As expected, the company could not handle the crop and by Independence in 1963 its owners had no capital to expand. The new Jomo Kenyatta government started looking for a company that would manage the pineapple industry and in 1964 they reached out to Del Monte, a US company that was growing pineapples in Hawaii.
Del Monte had faced some restive workforce in Hawaii and wanted to expand to Africa where there was cheap labour. They also wanted to grow pineapples in a plantation.
In order to agree to invest in Kenya, Del Monte wanted some land to lease. That is how the government took over a sisal farm known as Anglo-French Sisal and handed it over to Del Monte in 1965 which pays an annual rent. The government also issued a regulation restricting pineapple planting to those licensed by the Canning Crops Board.
Two years later, pineapple was designated a special crop which gave the ministry powers to manage its growing and marketing.
Under the new agreement, Kenya Canners was to be managed to Del Monte and it was to grow its own crop. It was to also take supplies from local farmers. But in 1968, it decided to stop buying from locals and that it should have a monopoly. The company argued that smallholder production was not meeting international standards.
The government did not intervene and it was more concerned with growing the export market and diversifying from tea and coffee.
Kenya Canners named was later dropped to Del Monte Kenya. In 2002, Cirio Alimentare acquired a 98% stake in the company, and following this the company changed its name to Cirio Del Monte Kenya Limited.
That is how Cirio Del Monte Kenya Limited became one of the largest pineapple exporters and why locals still have no factory to take their fruits.
The company produces canned solid pineapple, juice concentrates, mill juice sugar and cattle feed. Actually, Kenya’s largest single manufactured export is canned pineapple, and the country ranks among the top five pineapple exporters in the world, both of which feats are direct results of the company’s existence and operations.
In 2011 the company’s annual revenue was estimated at $4.5 billion Kenyan shillings and its processing
Del Monte harvests only the first ratoon to avoid poor quality. The offcuts obtained during harvesting are then replanted. Because of the scanty rainfall in the area, Del Monte irrigates the crop to stabilize production. The firm relies heavily on imported fertilizers, fumigants, pesticides and hormones to achieve high yields and faster maturation.