Kenyan farmers engaged in the farming of the little known tea tree also referred to as cosmetic leaves have been smiling their way to the banks as income more than triples buoyed by a burgeoning demand for the commodity in major export markets in the world.
According to statistics from the Kenya Horticulture Competitiveness Project, a body that works with small farmers in the country to strengthen their businesses network, the value of tea tree production in the country has more than doubled in the last two years with the volume of tea tree raw material supplied by farmers doubling to 7500,000 kilogrammes valued at a farm gate sale of Sh7million in 2013, significantly boosting farmer incomes. Tea tree extracts from the leaves is used in the manufacture of cosmetics and as an active ingredient in most drugs.
This in essence has also almost doubled the oil supplied to The Body Shop in Britain, one of their biggest cosmetic clients, from 3,900 kg valued at Sh8million in 2010 to 5,960 kg valued at Sh120 million in 2013.
According to the KHCP’s recently released monthly update, this increase has significantly increased the incomes of the 600 smallholder farmers.
To ensure that the farmer’s products meet international market standards, Earth Oil Extracts Ltd has implemented a comprehensive quality management system to monitor organic and Fair Trade standards. Earthoil Plantations, a subsidiary of Treatt PLC, is a commercial processing and export company based in Kenya that supplies the global market with oil extracts from moringa, macadamia, passion fruit and papaya seeds produced by thousands of small-scale farmers in East Africa.
“You would hear farmers in nearby counties saying they are making a lot of money from their cash crops such as tea and coffee. To us, tea tree is now our cash crop,” said Elizabeth Njeri Gituku, tea tree farmer in Nanyuki. Growing of tea tree in Kenya was expanded when Earth Oil Extracts Ltd partnered with KHCP in September 2001.
The company links smallholder farmers to the international market by delivering high quality ingredients to a wide range of industries in the natural cosmetic industry in the UK, and United States. Currently, 600 farmers in Laikipia and Meru Counties have adopted tea tree farming and over two million trees have been planted as a result of the partnership, increasing the production area by over 40 percent.
Under the partnership, farmers are further being trained on tea tree production, record keeping, financial management, and environmental conservation, which will be supported through a new training centre.
The partnership also includes training farmers on how to grow other crops which can be extracted for oil. Already, trials with geranium, an oil producing crop are underway on various research plots in collaboration with the Kenya Organic Oil Farmers Association (KOOFA).
Due to the increased production of oil crops, Earth Oil has invested more than Sh10million for a processing factory in Nanyuki and was able to secure a new buyer from the US, Dr. Bronners Soaps.The factory has a unique oilseed expeller designed to provide a substantial increase in pressing capacity, and which includes innovations to advance the cold-pressing of sensitive oils.
It allows Earthoil Kenya to further improve the economics of oilseed extraction while ensuring that either high-capacity conventional pressing or low temperature organic oil extraction are equally available. The largest of the five presses in Earthoil’s facility can operate 24 hours a day and handle as much as 20 metric ton of raw products to produce eight metric ton of oil daily.
Through a community partnership with the Ministry of Water, Earth Oil is benefiting an additional 6,000 households through the rehabilitation of the Burguret water project to increase access to water for irrigation and domestic use.
To boost adoption of irrigation technology and guarantee sustainability, KHCP has facilitated access to finance credit to farmers through collaboration with the USAID-Financial Inclusion for Rural Microenterprises project and Milango Financial Services Ltd, a local microfinance institution.
It is expected that in the coming years the farmers will expand their production to cater to more ‘big name’ consumer companies. The company has recently entered into an agreement with another large US consumer soap manufacturer, SFIC Corporation, for the supply of tea tree oil from Kenya. Although the details are still being worked out, the signing of other cosmetic giants will no doubt help farmers and earth Oil Extracts to expand their capacities and increase profits.