The high demand for beauty and medicinal products made from Aloe Vera has created a fertile market for the crop in Kenya with a kilogram of the its fresh leaves now retailing at KSh35 up from KSh25, two years ago, according to local processor Herbal Garden Limited.
Faced with the low supply, herbal companies are now wooing more farmers into growing the plant by offering enticing prices, An acre of land, which can accommodate 4000 plants on average, is likely to earn farmers an average of Sh840,000 up from an average of sh600,000 per harvest., Aloe Vera takes 18-24 months to mature and produces at least four leaves per plabt, each weighing 1.5-2kg. After the first harvest, leaves can be harvested every 3-4 months,allowing farmers in Kenya to earn up to Sh3.35m per acre annually.
Low production costs
Compared to other commercial crops like tea, coffee andmaize, Aloe Vera has the least production costs, with most of the expenditure being incurred in the initial stages of production.
Unlike in India where the plant production is threatened by a virus disease called Aruba, no Aloe Vera disease has been recorded in Kenya. The plant can also be grown virtually in any region in the country due to its ability to withstand extreme climatic conditions-most aloe varieties favor areas with average temperatures of 27-31 degrees celcius and annual rainfall of 300mm, Aloe barbadensis, a common commercial variety in the country can withstand rainfall of up to 1200mm per year
Although Aloe can be propagated from seeds, most farmers prefer vegetative means to reduce the time and resources needed to grow seedlings in a nursery. Other disadvantages of propagating using seeds include poor seedling emergence and the faster initial growth of suckers. Farmers can obtain tissue cultured seedlings various centres across the country including Herbal Garden Ltd, KEFRI, Kenyatta University and KALRO.
After transplanting, other crop husbandry activities like weeding can be carried out at regular intervals. An early removal of plant suckers is recommended in order to obtain larger leaves since formation of many suckers retards the plants’ growth resulting in reduced yields of the mother plant. Application of nitrogen fertilizer should be conducted after every harvesting season to facilitate faster leaf formation and increase yield per leaf. It is however worthy to note that application of large amounts of water and nitrogen can reduce gel quality. Other cultural practices that may favor leaf production are mulching, shading and furrow cultivation.
Aloes are harvested by cutting the base of three outermost mature leaves and should be transported immediately to a gel production facility to avoid shrinkage that can result into low volumes of gel. The sap is majorly used to make medicinal or cosmetic products.
For more information on how to join the Kenya Aloe Vera Growers Association, contact Herbal Garden Limited on 0725067621 or 0202450452.