by Naftali Mwaura
NAIROBI, Sept. 25 (Xinhua) -- Joyce Ikinya's 10-acre farm located in the vast plains of Kenya's lower eastern county of Machakos is a crown jewel thanks to a China aided moringa project.
The farm has benefited from meticulous application of proven innovations to boost crop yield in a region that has historically grappled with climatic shocks.
The 38-year-old mother of three and her husband used to cultivate traditional staples like maize, beans and sorghum in their farm with minimal success due to harsh weather patterns, hence their decision to embrace the drought-tolerant moringa tree early this decade.
The former high school teacher said that an encounter with a Chinese entrepreneur five years ago inspired her to expand the acreage under moringa tree thanks to a lucrative market for its medicinal products in the Asian country.
"We started growing the moringa tree in 2012 having learnt about its benefits in seminars. When my husband linked up with a Chinese entrepreneur in 2014, we found a new market for moringa products," Ikinya told Xinhua at her farm on Wednesday.
She admitted that venturing into moringa farming has been a game-changer thanks to improved revenue streams that enabled her to construct a magnificent house and buy an extra piece of land.
"Moringa is a great plant because it has improved our standard of living and it is also drought tolerant. The plant does not require a lot of care, unlike traditional cereals," said Ikinya.
Her breakthrough was realized in 2014 when her husband formalized a partnership with Cui Chaojie, general manager of Botanic Diamond that has been linking Kenyan moringa farmers with overseas markets.
According to Ikinya, the Chinese entrepreneur provided the much-needed expertise to improve crop husbandry as alongside refining and packaging of moringa products for export overseas.
"Botanic Diamond has helped us to improve production and marketing of moringa products. The company has assisted us to refine the seeds and package them as capsules for export to China and other markets," said Ikinya.
Her farm has 20 giant moringa trees that can produce 100 kilograms of seeds on a good season while an additional 100 smaller sub-types produce leaves that are used to make tea.
To help meet a growing local and overseas demand for moringa products, Ikinya has been providing seedlings to small scale farmers in her locality to grow the medicinal plant.
The entrepreneur farmer also purchases moringa products from her peers at a reasonable price then supply them to Botanica Diamond that repackages them for export to China.
"We buy one kilogram of moringa products at 500 shillings (5 U.S. dollars) and the Chinese company buys them from us at 12 dollars per kilogram," said Ikinya.
She said that harvesting and packaging moringa products has provided steady revenue to local women and youth.
Ikinya is currently relishing a windfall that China aided moringa cultivation project has brought to her household unlike traditional staples whose yield has been declining thanks to climatic stresses.
"We are ready to plant additional moringa trees," said Ikinya, adding that proceeds from moringa products have enabled her put up a mansion worth about 30,000 U.S. dollars while plans to buy an additional 4 acres of land are in the final stage.
Cui Chaojie, general manager of Botanic Diamond, said the moringa tree project has transformed livelihoods of smallholder farmers in the semi-arid Machakos County and beyond.
"We have more than 400 farmers in Machakos and Meru counties who are growing moringa plant and we are assisting them access the markets abroad," said Cui.
He said that his company has assisted local farmers in carrying out value addition to moringa seeds and leaves that are scientifically proven to have high nutrition and medicinal value.
"The value-added moringa products like oil and capsules are exported to the Chinese market through electronic commerce platforms. We also have a website where people can buy the products," said Cui.
John Mwangangi, a 68-year-old village elder who has planted moringa trees in his farm, said they have provided a reliable income amid shrinking crop yield linked to recurrent droughts.
"I planted several moringa trees five years ago and have started reaping financial rewards," said Mwangangi, a father of six.
Collaborative research involving Chinese and Kenyan scientists has revived cultivation of moringa and other indigenous plants in semi-arid lands to promote food security and ecological renewal.
Wang Qingfeng, director of Sino-Africa Joint Research Centre (SAJOREC), said that a partnership involving researchers, industry and farmers has facilitated establishment of robust moringa value chains in Kenya.