Taita-Taveta farmers find fortune in aloe vera
By - PASCAL MWANDAMBO | July 16th 2013
By PASCAL MWANDAMBO
I f here is a constant nightmare that farmers in Taita-Taveta County have endured for years, it’s the human-wildlife conflict. Hundreds of game move out of Tsavo and destroy crops worth millions of shillings.
In Voi constituency, areas such as Msinga, Kasigau, Maungu, Mbololo, Tausa and Ghazi have borne the brunt of this menace. Elephants move randomly, destroying crops. Now, local farmers are ruing the fate of living near game reserves.
But not so for a group of enterprising farmers in the semi-arid Maungu township in Voi. They have discovered that they can make a living from farming aloe — a hardy crop that elephants do not feed on.
Formed in 2006, Marungu Aloe Common Interest Group has now proved that arid lands need not be condemned wholesale as unfit for agriculture.
It is innovation that holds the key to sustainability.
As such, the aloe plant that grows well in arid and semi arid areas has now proved to be the wonder crop for these farmers. Their efforts have slowly begun to pay dividends.
“We got involved in the project to help us find a solution to numerous problems that bedeviled us,” Eve Kiseu, the project co-ordinator, trainer and mentor pointed out.
“The primary purpose was to promote aloe vera as an alternative cash crop and create an enterprise around the plant. The common interests for the members were production, management and conservation of the aloe.”
Apart from the economic benefits, the members got involved with the project to help reduce the human and wildlife conflict. They were to conserve and sustain the environment as they attempt to reverse years of environmental degradation resulting from charcoal burning.
The area is in the elephant migration corridor between Tsavo East and West. Even if food crops survive the excruciating heat, it is destroyed by elephants. But aloe is not touched by elephants thus offering an alternative.
The group started with members drawn from four zones in Marungu location, Voi District. They started with collecting seeds from the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) to develop their own seedbeds. When the seeds grew, they were planted in the group farms and every individual also got a share for their farms.
To show commitment to the project, it was mandatory for every member to grow close to 100 pieces on their farms. The initial group had about 55 members who paid an initial membership fee of Sh300. “Stimulating people’s interest and convincing them to actively participate in this project were perhaps some of the biggest challenges for us when we got started,” Eve added.
“There was also lack of knowledge on the economic value of aloe and some other challenges like lack of processing technology and equipment, proper packaging materials and labeling of the finished products.
The farmers value added the crop by extracting sap from the aloe plants after forming a cottage industry in Maungu township.
The business has now began to thrive. Farmers now produce aloe cream and lotions, soap, shampoo, multi-purpose detergent, petty jelly as well as aloe vera juice.
Through the intervention of the Innovation Fund for Agriculture and Agribusiness, spearheaded by the Agricultural Sector Co-ordination Unit (ASCU), five products got certification from the Kenya Bureau of Standards.
Supplementary Value Addition trainings, leadership and marketing skills trainings have been conducted and the members are smiling all the way to the bank.
Through this fund, they were also able to get the right certificates, bar codes and even develop the group’s promotional material.
“I harvested sap worth Sh13,000 that significantly helped improve the welfare of my family,” said Esther Wakesho a farmer and member of the group.
“Apart from the financial benefits, members can now maintain cleanliness for themselves and their family since we are the first market for these products and use them at home. Families are also able to take their children to school.”
Women are the majority members of the aloe project. They have proved that they too can play a vital role in the economic wellbeing of their families.
Through the trainings, the community awareness on the economic potential the aloe plant has increased. The group has opened a shop selling Marungu aloe vera products in Maungu and they have plans to open other shops in Voi and other towns.
Key to these new opportunities is the three-acre piece of land donated to the group by the Taita-Taveta County Council. Part of the plot will be used to grow aloe but they also want to build a centre where youths and more members will be trained.
The group now has over 200 members. “Our future plans are to establish a village industry that will produce high quality aloe products, which will go a long way in wealth creation.” Eve said.
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