Kieni sub-county in Nyeri is largely dry, with the region receiving an average annual rainfall of 550 to 950mm.
Few food crops grow well in the region, although a good number of farmers grow maize, beans and onions.
One plant, however, that you cannot miss on most farms though on small-scale is aloe vera, which grows naturally because it thrives in dry conditions.
But as many farmers try to grow maize and other food crops with little success, Paul Maina has decided to embrace the aloe vera crop.
He grows the plants on two acres in Karemenu, Kieni in a business that he has engaged in for the past two years.
“Kieni’s semi-arid condition enables the plant to flourish,” says the former teacher who quit his job after 20 years to grow the plant.
Aloe vera is a short-stemmed succulent plant that grows 60 to 100cm tall and has thick and fleshy leaves. The plant has medicinal value.
Maina began on small-scale then expanded his farm after seeking a licence from the Kenya Wildlife Service at Sh500. He later went into value addition after seeing that there was no good demand for leaves.
About 5,000 plants with one metre spacing from a row to the next and 75cm from one plant to the next fit on an acre.
NOT AFFECTED BY DISEASES
Aloe vera can be grown by planting seedlings in a nursery before transplanting or planting suckers.
The crop takes two years to mature and is neither affected by diseases nor grown using fertiliser. From his entire firm, Maina gets 150kg of dry flowers and one tonne of bitter leaves per harvest.
The aloe vera plant is harvested twice a year, and it needs less labour as weeding is done during harvesting.
Six fresh leaves are cut from the lower side of the plant to allow further germination.
The leaves are then cut into tiny pieces and dried in direct sunlight for three days and later in a shade for six months before milling is done.
“Proper drying ensures no mould develops on the milled aloe vera powder. The boiled aloe juice, on the other hand, is used to make capsules.”
The herbal products Maina makes include Aloe Guard Detox Capsules and Aloe Bitter Sap.
On the other hand, he uses the plant’s flowers to make Aloe Guard Tea. The flowers are kept in a shade for four months to dry, thereafter, they are milled into a fine powder using a machine and are used for making soap and skin care products and to blend tea.
The farmer sells a pack of 25 Aloe Guard Tea sachets at Sh200 while Aloe Guard Detox capsules go for Sh200 a pack.
On the other hand, Guardian Booster capsules go for Sh150 while he further charges farmers seeking to learn how to grow the crop and add value Sh5,000.
“I sell an average of 200 packets of Guardian Booster capsules, 250 packets of Aloe Guard Tea, 180 packets of Aloe detox in two months,” he says.
“One aloe leaf produces half kilo of processed aloe powder. I do the milling at a posho mill at cost of Sh20 per kilo,” says Maina, who got the value addition knowledge by attending various training sessions organised by Kenya Industrial Research Development Institute and National Traditional Health Practitioners.
He does the processing and packaging of the items in his Kamuiga Aloe Industry and Aromatic Products located at Kennol along the Nyeri-Nairobi highway.
“I buy the capsules cover at Sh1 each. One capsule casing is standardised by manufactures to carry 500 milligrams of powdered products.”
The farmer presents his products yearly to Kenya Bureau of Standards for certification under dehydrated vegetables category.
“Before I started adding value to my produce, I would make less than Sh100,000 per harvest but now this has increased five-hold, with herbalists being some of my biggest buyers,” says Maina.