Corrugated roads, sharp turns, rocks and the scorching sun reflecting off the ground define a trip to Sabor village in Baringa County of Kenya’s Great Rift Valley.
Animal husbandry has been the main economic activity here for a long time, but the enterprise faces a lot of problems, among which there is an acute shortage of pasture and water. The dire situation in the region has fueled cattle raiding, which in turn has led to the proliferation of guns and other illegal weapons.
During the drought, livestock farmers bear losses because they are forced to sell their livestock cheaply. Butchers from Nairobi and other cities across the country flock to the villages to buy the animal at very low prices, with a mature cow sometimes selling for as little as US$50.
“It’s a failed venture – to sell livestock at a throwaway price is really desperate,” says Jackson Cheboy, 57, a former cattle farmer in Sabara.
Livestock farmers in the region have always been at risk of drought. But recent years have been particularly brutal, with failed rainy seasons killing thousands of animals along with their owners’ livelihoods and leading to the threat of starvation in the region
This is reported by the state publication News Agency of KenyaBetween January and April this year, the drought killed about 3,766 cattle – 1,338 in Tiati Constituency and 1,245 in Baringa South, and 44,300 households were affected by climate change-induced hunger.
Turning to aloe vera for relief
To reduce the losses, Baringo farmers like Cheboi have decided to switch to growing aloe vera and selling various products from this perennial plant. Aloe vera thrives in arid and semi-arid conditions and is well known for its healing properties. It has been found to be an effective way to alleviate the climatic problems affecting pastoralists in Loruk, Kimalel, Sabor and Kariema districts.
Aloe vera cultivation in Baringo is not exactly a new venture. In 2004, the European Union donated about US$150,000 to a project to promote the cultivation, collection and processing of aloe. The enterprise was successful on a number of fronts, but collapsed in 2008, reportedly due to poor management and poor pricing mechanisms that prevented farmers from cultivating the crop.
Now Cheboi and some other farmers – through their community organization KOKISA (Koriema Kimalel Sabor Farmer’s cooperative) – they work more with the harvest. They make several products from it, including soap, shampoo and herbs to treat various ailments.
My animals have died due to drought, some have been stolen, now I am completely dependent on the aloe vera plant for my daily needs
Jackson Cheboy, former rancher
Apart from the products, the farmers also sell aloe vera juice to foreign traders, mostly from China, who travel to accessible villages to buy the frozen juice and export it to their country. “That’s what keeps me going. I have no other income. My animals died from the drought and some were stolen,” Cheboy tells China Dialogue in Sabor village. “I now completely depend on the aloe vera plant for my daily needs.”
Alfred Chepkwony, another farmer from Baringo North, says the plant is the only solution to the many climate change challenges facing the people of Baringo.
Aloe garden at the Aloe Processing Plant, Koriema (Image: Shadrack Omuka)
He says farming is slowly transforming the region’s pastoralists. “Our lives have improved compared to those who still rely only on livestock,” he says. “This crop also prevents animal raids and reduces climate-related losses because people only keep a few animals that they can easily manage as they grow aloe vera for their daily income.”
Joseph Ngietich, project manager, is responsible for Baringo Aloe-Bio enterprise development project, confirms that aloe cultivation has improved the lives of many people in Baringo. “Aloe vera is a valuable plant, and that’s why we encourage local people to grow it and not depend on livestock. There is a big market in China where they can sell their products and make a good profit,” Ng’etich said.
Although cosmetic products and medicines made from the sap are in high demand locally, most farmers prefer to sell their sap to Chinese traders at US$1.50 per kilogram.
According to Evans Tarachi, head of research at the National Museums of Kenya, Baringo can produce up to 7 tonnes of aloe juice per hectare, worth more than US$15,000 a month – an amount that is difficult to compare with livestock farming in this arid and semi-arid area. arid region.
Also in Turkana County
It is not just farmers in Baringa who are turning to aloe vera cultivation to reduce losses caused by climate change. In neighboring Turkana County, local residents have also formed farmer groups to fully participate in aloe cultivation and production of various products.
Thanks to their community group, the Nalapatui Natural Resources Management Committee, which has 35 members – mostly women and young people – the locals have given up livestock farming to become aloe vera farmers.
With the assistance of Kenya Institute of Forestry, group members set up aloe nurseries to end their dependence on wild aloe and start cultivating the plant, thereby ensuring a regular supply of sap. At the moment, they produce soap and beauty products that are sold locally in the Kakuma refugee camp and in the town of Lokichogio.
As in the Baringa villages, the venture has transformed the living standards of local people in the village of Nalapatui in western Turkana, which is also in a region where crime such as cattle raiding is rife.
“The money I get from aloe products has allowed me to start another business. I have a retail shop in the village where I also sell various products, says Ekura Ekutan, a farmer from Nalapatui.
Not an easy undertaking
Growing aloe vera requires relatively low levels of chemicals and almost no weeding. Locals say that once planted, the plant kills weeds on its own and cannot be eaten by animals, mainly because its leaves have a spiky structure on both sides, complete with a thorn at the tip. information published by the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute, however, suggests using nitrogen-phosphate-potassium fertilizers at a rate of about 20 kg per acre, along with occasional insecticides to control sap-feeding mealworms.
The exercise of extracting the juice from a plant and processing it into a final product is not easy and requires a lot of work.
Newly installed Zonken sign at the gate of the Koriem Aloe Processing Plant (Shedrak Omuka)
Pamela Chepcheng, a farmer from Kimalel, says that the juice needs to be boiled to a level that promotes solidification. “When the liquid becomes thick, it is removed from the boiling pot and poured into another container for cooling. After about 30 minutes, the thick juice becomes solid,” she says. “The solid materials are then broken into small pieces and bagged ready for sale.”
Chepchen says that the process is quite difficult and that sometimes you have to hire a lot of workers to do the work, “which turns out to be expensive compared to the profit we get after the whole process.”
According to Ngietich, a single farmer can squeeze up to five liters of green liquid from a plant in a day. Those farmers who live in remote areas, where it is difficult to reach the market themselves, will try to sell the juice to traders at about US$0.30 per litre, earning up to US$45 per month.
“Chinese traders buy juice for 1.5 dollars per liter [from markets] but farmers feel that the price needs to be raised to about US$4 to make the business more profitable,” he says.
Although profit is not pleasing, Chepchen is not disappointed. She tells China Dialogue that growing aloe has enabled her to build a house for her family and send her children to school. She can also feed them, unlike before when they depended on supplementary food.
“After selling the juice and getting the money, I can do a lot of things,” she says. “I pay tuition for six children: three in elementary school, two in high school and one in the local university.”
Commercialization of the crop
Two years ago, the Baringo County Government signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with a Chinese company, Zonken Biotech Company Limited, to promote the cultivation and marketing of aloe vera in the region.
According to the memorandum of understanding document, Zonken is tasked with promoting farming as well as conducting marketing activities and procuring juice from local farmers, while the Baringo County Government is to allocate land to set up an aloe processing plant.
Baringo Governor Stanley Kiptis says the main objective of signing the MoU was to commercialize aloe cultivation in the county to improve the standard of living of farmers.
“We need our people to change their mentality from animal husbandry to aloe vera cultivation, a more profitable venture than simply keeping animals. We as a government would like our farmers to live a dignified life,” Kiptis tells China Dialogue.
“We have more than 7,000 square kilometers of land that has been left under steam for decades. If we can plant aloe vera on this land, we will change our lives forever; relying on livestock is an outdated way of doing business,” he says.
Zonken has already started renovating a decommissioned facility at Korieme in Baringo South to process aloe juice, a move away from the current practice where farmers process the juice by hand.
Company spokesman William Chin says the company will also employ many women and young people under the age of 35 once it is up and running. He says Zonken will offer good incentives to farmers “to further boost their morale, which has been low for a long time due to low prices”.
https://chinadialogue.net/en/climate/kenyan-herders-turn-to-aloe-farming-as-drought-bites/ Kenyan herders turn to aloe cultivation due to drought