By Leopold Obi, BRACED
NANYUKI, Kenya - Women herders in Kenya's semi-arid Laikipia County have broken with tradition to export the leaves of a desert plant to Europe, boosting their incomes. Three hundred women in El Poloi have switched from the age-old occupation of goat-keeping to the new and far more lucrative activity of farming aloe, a plant with healing properties.
Along the way, they are transforming their economic status and creating educational opportunities for their daughters.
Drought-prone El Poloi lies to the northwest of snow-capped Mount Kenya in the Great Rift Valley. According to the Kenya Meteorological Department, the area receives less than 400 mm (16 inches) of rainfall annually.
Only a few hardy shrubs and savannah grass can survive on the harsh terrain. The community's women say their men used to journey miles to Mount Kenya in the dry season seeking grazing for their herds, while the women and children stayed behind without enough food.
Knowing maize and vegetables would not produce good harvests in this climate, the women decided six years ago to cultivate Aloe secundiflora, a plant common to semi-arid parts of Kenya.
|The women preparing cosmetics made with aloe, Laikipia County, TRF/Leopold Obi|
They formed four groups tasked with fighting poverty and gender inequality. Each group farms at least 3 acres (1.2 hectares) of the short-stemmed succulent plant.
Rosemary Putunoi, a leader of Twala Cultural Manyatta Women, said her group was given 40 acres (16 hectares) of dry, eroded land to farm by the men of the community in 2008.
"We then saw an income opportunity in growing osunguroi (aloe), which we traded for goats from our men. We planted aloes on 2 acres to start, and 12 roots of the plant (could be) exchanged for a goat," Putunoi said.
The men used the aloe to brew a traditional fermented wine made of the pounded roots mixed with water, sugar and honey.But the benefits of aloe cultivation did not end there.
The women discovered the plants reduced erosion and improved the soil, enabling grass to grow. So they decided to charge fees to herders who wanted to graze animals on their land. They used that money and proceeds from their aloe sales to pay for their daughters to be educated.
Read the full story at Building Resilience and Adaptation to Climate Extremes and Disasters (BRACED)