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    Residents of the arid Baringo county are courting the drought resistant aloe vera to earn a living in an area where crops have failed to sprout, and now earning upto Sh20,000 a month from the sale of the sap from the leaves. Besides livestock keeping , the main source of income locally , farmers in the area which enjoys limited rainfall are diversifying to aloe vera production to earn additional money to improve their livelihood.

    As men and youth take care of livestock in the expansive county, women and children traverse the district collecting sap from the leaves of the succulent aloe plant. Those who have planted the crop in their farms are usually busy harvesting it. Mr Joseph Ng'etich, who is in-charge of Baringo Aloe-Bio-Enterprise Development Project, says sap from the green plant with thick fleshy leaves is used to make beauty products and medicine.

    He said that once the sap is processed, the group uses it to make soaps, shampoos and body creams. The sap is also sold to foreign markets, where it is in high demand. Flowers from the plant produce seeds that are sold at about Sh1,000 a kilogramme. "Our members deliver aloe sap to various collection centres, mainly in Loruk and Kolowa within the county," said Mr Ng'etich.

    He adds: "Apart from the beauty products, we boil the sap, let it cool and harden, and then pack it in 50-kg sacks ready for the market."
    He says that whereas the beauty products have a ready market locally, the farmers rely mainly on a Chinese trader to purchase the dried sap.
    "The Chinese trader buys the sap at Sh150 per kilo but most farmers demand between Sh300 and Sh400 per kilo if the business is to be meaningful," he said.

    Consequently, low prices discourage many farmers from expanding the acreage under the crop despite its low production expenses.
    He adds that the plant doesn't require weeding and spraying with chemicals. Also, livestock don't feed on it. Once planted, it can be harvested every five months for more than 20 years.

    Mr Ng'etich says the major challenge that has seen many farmers ask for additional pay is the process of squeezing sap from the plant and processing it into the final product. "We require drums and fire wood. After filling half a drum with the sap, we boil it for three hours then pour it into an open container in a shaded place to dry for 30 minutes."

    "The liquid must boil to a level that facilitates solidification. Once the liquid is thick enough, it is removed from the fireplace and poured into an open container to cool." "It turns into solid form in about 30 minutes. We then break it into small pieces and pack it in sacks, ready for transportation to the market."

    Mr Ng'etich says Kenya can produce enough gum from aloe vera for both local and foreign markets if farmers are given proper incentives.
    "When exported, the produce fetches good returns as it is sold in grammes. This is why we are asking for better prices," said Mr Andrew Rumenya, the Kimalel location chief who also cultivates aloe vera on a one-acre piece of land.

    He says farmers can realise good returns if proper investment in machines to help in squeezing out juice from the plant. "Extracting sap manually is cumbersome. That is why many farmers realise just a few litres from a day's work. Machines would simplify the work," he said. He adds that the plant thrives in dry, lowland areas and would do well in Kenya's arid and semi-arid regions where it could supplement livestock production.

    The aloe-bio-enterprise, which has spread to every location in the county, started in 2004, with funding from the European Union. First to be constructed was the Koriema Nursery and Factory in the area to process aloe vera.

    In 2009, the group was issued with an operation permit by the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), which has jurisdiction over the aloe plant. Thereafter, there was signing of a deal between KWS and the county council of Baringo on the processing and marketing of aloe products.
    Mr Daniel Kamau, the technical field officer of the Community Development Trust Fund -- who are funding the project in conjunction with the European Union -- says the factory will be fully operational soon after they pumped in over Sh3 million to upgrade the facilities.
    "We will then enter into an agreement with marketing agents for farmers to realise better prices," he said.

    A project to draw farmers to the neglected bee farming is yielding results with farmers in the trade now earning upto Sh400 for a kilo of honey and spending less on space and expenses.

    The initiative by Tendo Micro Invest already has 200 farmers from Western, Coast and Central Kenya one year on and is riding on the promise of quick returns with farmers earning upto Sh240, 000 annually with ten hives. “We realized that most farmers lack knowledge on the economic and agricultural importance of apiculture. Although many players in the agricultural sector are supporting agribusiness initiatives, most of these projects ignore bee keeping a fact that has made the venture be shunned by many rural farmers,” said Peter Mbugua the Chairman of the group. 

    The less attention accorded to this promising sector prompted Mbugua to enlighten farmers on the less labour intensive venture that guarantees huge returns. “Bee keeping unlike other agricultural ventures requires less attention and space. You just hang the hives at an appropriate point and wait to harvest the honey after four months. Bees do not need medication, feeds among others,” added Mbugua.

    Tendo Group having realized the bottlenecks to successful commercial beekeeping set out to eliminate them with their main focus being providing farmers access to modern bee hives and other accessories. Mbugua explained that to curb this problem, the group offers farmers bee hives on credit whose main security is the input itself. “We offer inputs and advice to any farmer willing to practice beekeeping. The loans on the hives are very affordable as they only attract an interest rate of 5 percent per annum. Our clients are allowed to repay a portion of the loans after every harvest.”

    The group’s campaign which has pooled over 200 farmers spread from Western, Coast and Central Kenya is also rooting for quality honey production. The honey market is filled with a lot of fake honey a fact Mbugua warns if not dealt with now may work against the sector’s growth. “When we ventured into the industry, we realized that it was hard for one to get pure honey with some unscrupulous traders going to an extent of faking clients with molasses.” In addition, most farmers use the traditional bee hives and lack the needed accessories for honey harvesting leading to poor quality honey as well as killing of the bees with fire during harvesting which leads to colony collapse disorder. The steady increase in Colony collapse disorder has sent shock waves to many environmentalists who argue that the situation may in the long run impact negatively on food security given the vital pollination role the insects play agriculture.

    Bee’s vital role in pollination is highlighted through a 2008 study by French and German researchers, who estimate the insects’ contribution to the production of crops used directly for human food at about $210 billion  globally, equivalent to 9.5 percent of the total value of agricultural output for producing food for humans. A second similar training is planned for June 2014 for francophone countries.

    In order for a farmer to successfully practice a commercially viable apiculture, Mbugua advised that, one must shift from the traditional mind set of having one or two hives. “An ambitious farmer in the venture can reap gains if only he acquires about 10 modern hives.” The hives cost about Sh4000 and the package comes together with a kilo of sunflower seeds which farmers are advised to intercrop with other crops on their farms. Our hives have two compartments with lower part meant for the queen bee and the upper one housing the worker bees. If well catered for the hives can last for over 20 years. “For the hives to last longer, one must keep them under a tree shade away  from excessive rain water and heat from the sun’’.

    Quality honey being a key point in the group’s work has driven them to partner with the farmers and provide accessories for harvesting honey. Mbugua noted, “The cost of accessories for the job are quite costly with a set going for over Sh20,000 and as a result we decided to provide such services to some of our farmer partners. We offer ready market for our farmers offering Sh400 for a kilo of honey, however, those farmers who request us to harvest for them pocket Sh350 for the same quantity.”

    According to Mbugua honey is harvested after every four months with each harvest able to provide over 20 kilos per hive. Out of over 200 farmers that have partnered with Tendo, the average number of hives owned by them is about 10. According to Mbugua, “At the retail price of Sh400, one is able to earn about 80,000 just in four months translating to over Sh240, 000 annually. He boasts that this is money one earns without much hustle as the bee do not require feeds, medication and other cost related needs as is the case with ventures like dairy, poultry, piggery among others.”

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