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Health elixir: Farmers warm up to therapeutic aloe vera

FINANCIAL STANDARD
By Pascal Mwandambo | May 20th 2014

By Pascal Mwandambo

Kenya: Aloe vera has been dubbed the plant of immortality for its healing properties and rich nutritional content.

It has at least six natural antiseptics, which are able to kill mold, bacteria, funguses and viruses, and it helps with digestive issues and is a beauty aid.

In Bura village, Taita Taveta County, Mr Apolinary Ngoma, 60, has come to appreciate the crop for its monetary value. While many of his neighbours struggle to make a living from their land as prolonged drought hits the region, Mr Ngoma is sitting pretty.

Ngoma is a member of Mwakibu Farmers Co-operative Society, which is determined to make a mark in the country’s aloe cottage industry. The society has brought together 320 aloe farmers from Mwakitau and Bura villages (hence the name Mwakibu) in Mwatate Constituency.

“Aloe vera has great economic potential in Taita Taveta County and has the potential to benefit hundreds of thousands of farmers,” Ngoma says.

Bargaining power

The farmer, who is the county aloe value chain chairman, says the major varieties being grown by the local farmers are aloe vera and aloe secundiflora.

“We formed the co-operative society so that we could have greater bargaining power and get better prices for our produce. As a result of the improved incomes, we are now in the process of purchasing a Sh3 million aloe processing machine that can turn aloe sap into aloe jelly, since the latter fetches higher prices than raw sap. Governor John Mruttu is helping us procure the machine,” he says.

According to Mr Patrick Muli, the marketing officer for aloe value chain with the Kenya Agricultural Productivity Programme (KAPAP), Taita Taveta farmers have been getting good returns.

“We are buying a litre of aloe sap for Sh1,000 per litre. We take it to our cottage industry in Bura where we produce various aloe products such as creams, soaps, conditioners and shampoos,” he says.

The aloe products, under the brand name Morio, have proved popular in Taita Taveta and the Coast region, and plans are afoot to set up outlets in Voi, Mwatate, Wundanyi and Taveta sub-counties.

According to Mr Muli, more than 900 farmers in Taita Taveta are growing aloe.

“Arid lands need not be condemned wholesale as unfit for agriculture; it is innovation that holds the key to sustainability,” he says.

“Lack of knowledge on the economic value of aloe coupled with a lack of processing technology are some of the challenges that we have had to deal with,” says Ms Eve Kiseu, the aloe cottage industry project co-ordinator.

“But the industry has begun to show signs of viability and farmers are making good money from the aloe plant.”

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