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Part of: Pastoralists and climate change
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Kenyan herders farm aloe as climate hits traditional income

Monday, 13 December 2010 11:56 GMT

Herders find a new way to make a living - farming aloe to make beauty products - as erratic weather and frequent droughts make their centuries-old way of life hard to sustain

LODWAR, Kenya (AlertNet) – Herders in northern Kenya have found a new way to make a living – farming aloe to make beauty products – as erratic weather and frequent droughts brought on by climate change are making their centuries-old way of life hard to sustain.

The hot and arid lands of northern Kenya support very few crops. This year alone, some 1.2 million Kenyans, mainly herders, are relying on food aid, and child malnutrition is a common problem among them.

In 2006 a women’s group in the Namoruputh area decided to start cultivating aloe, which grows wild here, and use its sap to make soaps, lotions and shampoos for sale.

About 40 women now work on the project. When sales are good, the group makes $600 a month.

“I’m glad I joined the soap-making project because things were getting bad. I lost all my livestock when the rains failed,” said group member Lomoo Lochaan Kiyapa.

“But here I get money to buy food and take care of my family’s needs. I can also get some soap to use at home.”

The Kenya Forestry Research Institute (KEFRI) has been helping the women farmers grow and process aloe.

After harvesting, aloe leaves are left to stand in a container for about half an hour to drain out the sap. To make aloe shampoo, for example, the sap must be sieved. Then it’s mixed with a water-and-foaming agent mixture, some emulsifier, perfume, colour and salt.

“Aloe has many benefits. It heals infections like ringworms, scabies and rashes, and treats various diseases,” said Santina Epat, the women group’s chairwoman.

The women’s aloe beauty products go by the brand name Echuchuka.

“I like Echuchuka products because they are effective,” said Collins Oloo, a customer in the town of Lodwar. “The soap treats pimples and rashes. You also feel very fresh after taking a shower.”

The women are planning to expand their factory and buy new processing equipment.

KEFRI is also helping them to expand their range.

“We now want to go into the products that are ingested for medicinal purposes. We have started making the aloe health drink,” said Rose Chiteva, a research scientist with KEFRI.

“Aloe products are very good products. They are products that take care of fungal infections whether you ingest or apply on the skin. They are products that take care of bacterial diseases, plants that even take care of cancer.”

(This story was first broadcast on Reuters Africa Journal. Additional reporting by Katy Migiro)

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