“East African Aloes Restoring the Health of Kenya’s Semi-Arid Land”
Over 75% of East Africa is classified as semi arid agriculturally marginal land. Livestock farming undertaken by pastoralist peoples is the main source of livelihood in these drought prone areas. Unfortunately, excessive livestock numbers has resulted in overgrazing with a disasterous effect on soil erosion, lake siltation, and reduced catchment values.
Alternative land uses that can augment and support more sustainable livestock production are needed. One such option is the wild ranching and farming of indigenous East African Aloes that directly contribute to stabilizing soils, improving water catchments and increasing grazing yields.
Aloes are ‘xerophytes’ (plants adapted to survive in areas of low erratic rainfall) and are commonly found in arid and semi arid lands. Kenya is home to over 57 different native species of aloe, with the most common being Aloe Secundiflora, Aloe Turkanesis, Aloe Lateritia, Aloe Rabaiensis and Aloe Kedongensis. These East African Aloes can be easily propogated and planted as a symbiotic and complimentary land-use to livestock production.
Aloes have many uses: medicine both for humans and livestock, manufacturing of cosmetics, planted in gardens as decorative plants, animal fodder, grown as hedge plant for boundary/land demarcation, rangeland rehabilitation and erosion control & conservation initiatives. The raw Aloe bitters contribute to both cosmetic and homeopathic medicinal products. The Aloe gel lends itself well to the cosmetic industry and can be used as a skin healer in its pure, crude state. The leaves, once rid of their juice can be dried and used in the traditional herbal medicine sector, the international homeopathy market and even as highly nutritious animal fodder.
Many semi arid land communities–from Baringo, Taita Taveta to Kenya’s coastal districts have begun to farm and actively husband the wild Aloe resource. Unfortunately, assistance provided by many support NGOs has focused only on sustainable production and not with sourcing value added markets also.
As such, although there is now significant sustainable production capacity, farmers are only realizing negligible prices from market middlemen. This is because they, firstly, do not have the knowledge to process quality raw products; secondly, they produce only one low value bitters gum product and not the gel and dried leaf powder, and thirdly; they have no knowledge of the local and international markets.
In order to rectify this situation, and realize the full livelihood and conservation benefits of Aloe farming and ranching, an East African Aloe business model has been established on the Wild Living Resources business park that showcases how Aloe can be sustainably harvested, processed -and high value products marketed into conscientious consumer markets.
Aloe producing Community Based Organizations (CBOs) are trained and their capacity built to ethically and sustainably produce some three Aloe products. Wild Living Resources then assists Aloe outgrowers directly in finding value added markets. This provides not only a sustainable livelihood income for pastoralist communities but also contributes significantly to combating soil erosion, desertification and improved grazing.