For years, many pastoralists in remote villages in Turkana West Sub-county have been subjected to abject poverty and starvation due to perpetual drought and banditry attacks.
Efforts to introduce rain-fed agriculture to address vulnerability and eliminate reliance on relief food have also proven to be unreliable.
However, the Kenya Forestry Research Institute (KEFRI) and other non-governmental organizations have given locals a reason to smile following the production of aloe vera products.
Edward Samal is one of the pastoralists who, after losing his cattle to bandits and drought, seized the opportunity to earn money from the sale of Aloe Turkanensis.
With 29 other members of the Nalapatui community management committee for natural resources, they harvest Aloe Turkanensis to extract the sap, mix it with chemicals to make liquid and solid soap, as well as shampoo.
âAs much as our main goal is to earn an income, we also want to save the plant from extinction. We have the Kakuma nursery where we specifically propagate the aloe and transplant it to our farm, âhe says.
The group harvests Aloe Turkanensis, which they call locally Echuchuka, a nearby green natural forest that is home to various native tree species.
Samal said the Turkana County Natural Resources Branch trained them on how to conserve aloe vera species after harvest to protect them from extinction.
Every member is familiar with the product manufacturing process, and there is a readily available manual with guidelines on the harvesting process, the extraction of raw materials and the measurement of the various ingredients.
Samal said the soaps from their aloe vera are most sought after in Kakuma Town, Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kalobeyei Integrated Settlement and Lokichoggio Town because they last longer and are more affordable than those from from Nairobi, Mombasa, Eldoret or Kitale.
The solid soap goes for Sh50, a liter of soap and shampoo at Sh200. Their affordable price has made aloe products popular in the nearest village and center, Kalobeyei.
Each member is a seller who relies on small groups and local administrators to market and sell the products.
The group is looking to expand its market to Lodwar and each of the county’s sub-counties.
âI don’t regret having joined the group. The proceeds helped me to set up a kiosk in the village, where I sell the products to the locals, âSamal said.
Boaz Ekiru, the sub-county’s natural resources officer, noted that in addition to its medicinal value, the villagers took responsibility for conserving the plant for its aesthetic value in addition to preventing soil erosion.
âWith increased revenues, the group has embraced sustainable use through environmental conservation,â he said.
Jesse Owino, a KEFRI scientist, said the demand for aloe gel or aloe gum is increasing around the world, especially in the cosmetic industries.
Dr Owino said that companies relying on Aloe turkanaensis Turkana County businesses should be supported to have easy access to raw materials for making various aloe products to stimulate income generation.
He noted, however, that despite the species’ presence in remote and isolated areas, aloe, like all plants in the region, had been affected by the increase in human population associated with commercial exploitation.
âThe projection is that aloes are generally in decline in the county because they are overexploited by unscrupulous businessmen and therefore are an endangered species,â Owino said.
He suggested that Turkana get a framework on the management of aloe vera which should be observed when using.
This, he said, would be achieved through the formation of aloe management units run by the Kenya Wildlife Service.
Another scientist, Patrick Mwenja, said there was a need to expand existing commercial plantations if the community was to benefit from the sale of the aloe gel.
It is said that the village of Nanaam has 10 acres, the village of Napopongoit 12, Letea six and a half acres while Oropoi has three and a half acres of aloe.
The Turkana Bio Aloe organization relaunched the Kalemngorok group to produce aloe gum for sale at Sh100 per kilogram, with three harvests per year.
Already, the women-owned group produces aloe-based soaps, special aloe multi-purpose detergents and aloe disinfectants.