Bitterless aloe vera opens market opportunities for Western farmers

A rare Aloe vera variety is enjoying impressive uptake among households in Western Kenya thanks to its superior medicinal value with the company behind its introduction now targeting commercialization to allow farmers reap from its growing demand. The bitter-less plant which has been neglected and considered wild grew on its own in forested areas in the region. However, the trend has now shifted with many farmers creating space in their backyard for this medicinal plant thanks to the awareness campaigns about its’ medicinal value.

The awareness campaign was initiated four years ago by Bio Gardening Innovations BIOGI,a not for profit  community  based organization ,implementing sustainable livelihoods  projects in Western Kenya, and is counting success with demand for the plant’s seeds rising. “Nature is generous and has always favoured us because this plant has been in our surrounding for quite a long time save for our ignorance about the medicinal value in it. After empowering farmers with knowledge about its’ attributes, we can only blame ourselves if we don’t drive the masses into its adoption hence the launch of its campaign in the area.” explained Ferdinand Wafula the head of the organization.

This type of Aloe-vera known as ‘True Aloe’ is green with white markings and takes about seven months to mature. Wafula’s team is breeding the seeds for the farmers and also encouraging the farmers to exchange seeds among themselves in order to foster the deepening of the plant in the area. “The seeds are not available in the market and therefore the few farmers who already have the plant help us in seed multiplication. We also have our own farms that are helping in seed multiplication and exchange among the members of the various groups that are already affiliated to our organization.”

To ensure its quick growth, farmers are advised to prepare the land and also use organic manure while planting the seed. The planting season is best done during the rainy season around March and April a fact that Wafula explained will help increase the germination rate. “The only challenge with this plant is the initial planting time where one must give it proper care but after sprouting after three weeks, the plant has over 99 percent chances of survival to maturity.

It’s resistant to many shocks like poor climate and is hardly infested by any pest and diseases and therefore the only requirement from the farmer is to ensure that the garden is weeded and timely pruning is adhered to.” Depending on the soil and the existing climatic conditions the plant may take even less time to mature. “The beauty about it is that it’s not a one season plant as it may even last for over five years.”

Although Aloe-Vera is widely known for its’ medicinal properties, this unique type is exciting farmers due to its’ bitter-less properties. According to Wafula, many people in the area eat the fresh raw Aloe-Vera without any difficulties. The plant is very soft and has near salty taste as opposed to what many people associate with other varieties which are bitter and difficult to even taste leave alone chewing it.  The plant is now known by the locals as a cure for many ailments like Malaria, ulcers and even wounds. “Anyone with wounds or even skin diseases like ring worms which are common among children just smear the gel and healing process starts taking shape although the time frame depends with the intensity of the disease.”

Although the plant has a huge economic power, Wafula noted that their main priority now is to ensure that every household in the region adopts it and uses it to improve on their health and nutrition. “The locals have to first adopt and benefit socially from the plant before we scale it to the commercialization stage. You can only commercialize something after its’ acceptance in the society.

According to Dr. T. Ombrello from University College Cork Ireland, in the past, True Aloe vera leaves were sliced and laid on the skin to relieve itching and to heal burns.  Today it is claimed to work effectively on sunburns, minor burns, wrinkles, insect bites, skin irritations, cuts and scratches.  “A “tea” made from the dried sap of this species is said to make a good wash for wounds and the eyes.”  Interest in Aloe vera healing properties has revived in recent decades in respect to its use as a treatment for radioactive burns.

The major source of the raw sap today is the Netherlands Antilles, the true aloe having been introduced there several hundred years ago.  Historically, physicians commonly prescribed aloe sap for “cleansing the body” of a variety of “toxins”. Applied to an infant’s thumb, it was a sure way to stop thumb sucking.