International markets open up to semi arid Kenya’s bio products

A not for profit organization is working with farmers in arid areas to tap into their natural resources and diversify their income with a honey beauty products venture in Laikipia and Samburu areas being the latest success story having now exposed farmers to export markets and provided alternative income.

To build and strengthen organisational structures and value chains, the project has provided extension support and training in areas like business and finance management, bee keeping technologies, and organic farming to more than 831 producers, organised into 34 groups. By providing these services, Desert Edge, the organization behind the project, aims to assist producers in the region to operate more efficiently and achieve higher quality products, while maintaining their natural resource base.

"Developing ethical businesses in this remote and underdeveloped region requires organised groups, experience in technical aspects of production, exposure to fair markets, existence of traceability and an understanding of financial management," explains Susie Wren from Desert Edge.

"Desert Edge upholds ethical and sustainable trade in bio-products that is based on sound management, and strong value chains that operate through transparency and traceability systems," Wren adds. To achieve this, the company provides technical training and extension support, development of internal control systems, used for the development of strong supply chains and for organic certification compliance, and on-going monitoring. "The aim is to provide tangible incentives to producers to sustainably manage natural resources." Desert Edge has also established a laboratory to chemically analyse plant compounds, and field trials to develop viable enterprises from the domestication of certain indigenous plant species, such as hypericum, plectranthus, ocimum and hypoxis species.

Desert Edge enables women to play a stronger role in harvesting, processing and packaging by providing skills and guidance through on-going technical and business training and mentoring. Women have also been helped to open bank accounts in order to receive payment from Desert Edge for their products. The training sessions have also been designed to be practical, and are held in community areas, to allow women to participate more easily.

Raw and semi-processed bio-products that have met quality control standards are purchased at a nationally competitive price from the producers at seven depots constructed and equipped by Desert Edge. With the use of a central processing facility and two honey refineries, the semi-processed products are then processed, packed and branded before being dispatched to retail or export markets. An additional ten per cent of the profit from the processed products is then given to the producers. "Desert Edge is using ethical trade to achieve positive social and environmental change, and assisting vulnerable communities to develop more resilience to climate change," Wren added.

Honey, herbal teas, healthcare products and body and face care products are currently sold to national retail outlets and hotel chains. Desert Edge has also developed links with ethical buyers of organic and natural products elsewhere in Africa and internationally. In March 2011, full organic status was gained for honey, wax and cape chestnut seed sold for bodycare oil.

To harness extension opportunities and to seek advice and support in relation to creating an enabling legal and policy environment for plant-based enterprise development, Desert Edge established strong links with the Ministry of Livestock Development and the Ministry of Agriculture. "This pioneering and innovative approach has attracted strong interest from the Kenyan government and the development sector," Wren says. "Desert Edge is working in conjunction with a government consortium to ensure that the process informs national policy and meets international sustainable wild harvesting regulations."

"From the training and extension input, the groups have grown in size, supply has increased and both women and men are confident to adapt and diversify their livelihoods to include bio-enterprise activities," explains Maxwell Lumbasi, product and business development manager for Desert Edge. "Through the income raised from the sale of honey and aloe to Desert Edge I am now able to send my second child to school," adds Ngina Muthoka.

To ensure lasting impact, Desert Edge is aiming to reach the point where profits gained through the ethical trade of bio-products will finance the service provision. And by continuing to build producers' capacity to improve production and processing techniques, Desert Edge hopes to increase supply and trade, while protecting the natural resource base. In addition to selling honey and wax products, the company also hopes to expand its collection, processing and marketing to include apitherapy products, phyto-medicines and supplements.

"Sustainable development of these enterprises provides valuable opportunities for communities to diversify into sound, viable and climatically resilient enterprises, at the same time as taking an active role in the long term conservation of the environment," Wren concluded.