The green plant with some tiny spikes on the side of the leaves is scattered on a patched land at Makutano in Machakos, south of Kenya’s capital Nairobi.
When there was a long dry spell in Kenya last year, the aloe vera plants were left standing as others dried up.
The recent rains have given the other plants a lifeline and the aloe vera too, but not as much as the desert plants thrives during dry periods. Initially, the aloe vera was a wild plant, with little benefits for Makutano residents and the rest in Kenya’s drylands.
It would grow, age and die after many years on its own without much interference from residents or animals.
A few, however, who knew its value would harvest one or two leaves and use them to make concoctions for treating various ailments.
But that was before buyers from the capital Nairobi, some foreigners started to visit the area in search of the plant’s leaves.
The drought-tolerant plant that grows naturally in many arid and semi-arid areas across Kenya, has turned to be the new moneymaker in the regions.
The crop is lifting many households out of poverty and food insecurity as citizens plant the crop for cash.
“In Makutano, we grow mainly the Aloe barbadensis variety,” Collins Nzeli, a retired military man, who now grows 3,000 aloe plants, said in a recent interview.
Nzeli noted that the plant has good commercial value as one mature leaf weighs at least a kilogram.
“You get over a tonne of leaves from plants on about quarter-acre which makes the business good,” he said.
Dennis Achebi of Herbal Garden, one of the buyers and processors of aloe vera from different parts of Kenya, said one acre of aloe vera offers up to five tonnes of leaves, making it a profitable arid crop.
Achebi noted that the once wild plant is putting money in the hands of farmers, thanks to increased interest in the crop due to its medicinal value.
“As climate change ravages especially dry areas, farmers can readily rely on aloe vera to make money. When it rains, it takes in as much water as possible, and then uses it during the dry period. It survives in all arid and semi-arid areas,” he said, adding the crop is now farmed like any other.
The aloe vera plant is versatile with its sap used as an ingredient in many products in different industries, from soap making to producing medicine.
Other uses include making juices, soaps, herbal remedies, teas, detergents, food supplements and jelly oils.
The leaves are the most sought after parts of the plant, and they are normally crushed and the medicinal sap extracted.
Apart from the leaves, farmers also sell aloe vera sprouts to those who want to start farming of the crop commercially.
Beatrice Macharia of Growth Point noted that aloe vera has grown in many arid areas naturally but few knew its commercial value.
She said that as climate change hits many dry areas, aloe vera offers residents income as it is increasingly harder to grow other food crops. Enditem