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    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.

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    The African Orphan Crops Consortium has initiated plans to research and develop over 100 more nutritious African crop species which were formerly neglected in a move aimed at improving the nutrition of African farm families, especially children. The list of the 100 species, developed by African scientists and their colleagues elsewhere, is being released so that researchers around the world can contact the consortium with suggestions for research needs regarding the selected species. The crop list, available at the consortium’s website includes African eggplant, amaranth spider plant among others.

    Through their partner funding, the consortium will undertake laboratory tests to determine the complete DNA sequence for each of the crops listed. The first orphan crop to be studied will be baobab, which can be used as a dried fruit powder for consumer products. Baobab is called "the wonder tree" in Africa because its fruit has antiviral properties and other health benefits, ten times the antioxidant level of oranges, twice the amount of calcium as spinach, three times the vitamin C of oranges and four times more potassium than bananas.

    The consortium’s goal is to use the latest scientific equipment and techniques to guide the development of more robust produce with higher nutritional content. "Orphan crops" are African food crops and tree species that have been neglected by researchers and industry because they are not economically important on the global market. Mars Inc. previously led a similar collaboration that sequenced, assembled and annotated the cacao (cocoa) genome and made these data publically available on the Internet to all researchers in 2010.

    In December 2013 the consortium opened the African Plant Breeding Academy in Nairobi, Kenya, to help reduce hunger and malnutrition among the 600 million Africans who live in rural areas, and to boost Africa’s food supply.  The academy will train 250 plant breeders and technicians in genomics and marker-assisted selection for crop improvement over a five-year period.  The resulting improved planting materials will then be offered to smallholder farmers throughout Africa.

    The academy provides scientists and technicians with a dedicated place to sequence, assemble and annotate the genomes to help develop food crops with higher nutritional value and which can better withstand climate changes, pests and disease.  The data derived will be made publically available with the endorsement of the African Union through a process managed by the Public Intellectual Property Resource for Agriculture. The consortium invites communities focusing on the development of orphan crops to collaborate with the consortium on improving the productivity and nutrition of these crops.

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    The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) has announced a five-year project that seeks to increase incomes of smallholder farmers through the creation of an enabling policy environment in Africa. Dubbed Micro Reforms for African Agribusiness (MIRA), the initiative will identify, prioritize and reform specific agricultural policies and regulations that currently deter or limit private investment in small- and medium-sized agribusinesses operating in smallholder agricultural value chains.
    Over a period of five years, AGRA aims to motivate at least 25 significant policy or regulatory reforms in selected countries, leading to measurable increases in private sector investment in local agribusinesses. The project, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation, is expected to increase the number of smallholder farmers accessing improved technologies supplied by agribusinesses operating in local staple food value chains. It will also help them access stable, predictable income-generating market opportunities. This enhanced access to input and output markets is in turn expected to lead to increased smallholder productivity and incomes, and reduced poverty for smallholder farm-dependent families.
    “We are very excited about this new initiative,” says AGRA President Ms. Jane Karuku. “It will help African Governments unlock agricultural potential in their countries by supporting their efforts to develop progressive agricultural policies that will attract increased private investment in smallholder agricultural value chains. The initiative aims reform retrogressive agricultural regulations that deter rather than encourage such investment”.
    “The MIRA project will provide African Governments with access to high quality local and international technical assistance for identifying, prioritizing and reforming specific agricultural regulations,” says Dr. Steven Were Omamo, AGRA’s Director of Policy and Advocacy. “Current regulations often discourage private investment in small- and medium-sized agribusinesses that serve the needs of smallholder farmers.

    The project will help build the capacity of African Government leaders and analysts to make better-informed, economically-robust assessments and decisions about which regulations need to be reformed in order to facilitate increased private investment in smallholder value chains. Among the pillars of MIRA include strengthening African governments' demand for regulatory reforms, by supporting efforts to identify and assess regulations that unintentionally limit private sector investment in smallholder value chains, support African governments’ efforts to reform regulations that limit private sector investment in smallholder value chains, promoting reformed regulations to local and international private sector investors, in order to raise awareness about improved agribusiness-enabling environments in Africa and enhancing the capacity and commitment of African Governments to continuously review, assess and reform regulations that limit private sector investment in smallholder value chains.

    At the end of the project, the project hopes to create reformed agricultural policies and regulations creating more conducive environments for private sector investment in local agribusinesses operating smallholder value chains in five countries, increasing private sector investment in the “throughput capacity” of existing and new local agribusinesses and introducing at least 25 significant policy or regulatory reforms that induce measurable increases in private sector investment in local agribusinesses operating in smallholder agrifood value chains.

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