Manufacturers' preference for imported gel has left local producers of aloe vera in the thick of a fight for market share, it has emerged.
Local farmers say they are finding it difficult to market their produce against imported gel from South Africa and Brazil that have dominated the niche skin and beauty care products market for the past two decades.
Though aloe vera producers feel that they have come of age, manufacturers have maintained their preference for imported gel, citing quality and pricing concerns in the local market.
Mr Gerald Thuo of Kieni Aloe Vera Growers Association - a farmers' organisation with more than 300 members - told Business Daily that farming faces collapse at the hands of cheap imports and urged manufacturers to give them a chance.
"We have the capacity to supply quality gel that the entire industry needs and should be given a chance," he said.
Mr Thuo said manufacturers have refused to take up the local produce despite the growers having partnered with the University of Nairobi to improve the purification of their products as well as getting Kenya Bureau of Standards on quality certification.
Inability to sell the gel has seen the group's stock of aloe gel pile in its stores breeding fears of possible total loss.
Mr Joseph Macharia, the production manager at Interconsumer Products Limited, the manufacturers of the Nice and Lovely brand of body lotion, slow pace of chemical verification and certification is to blame for the reluctance of local manufacturers to buy locally-produced aloe gel. "Kenya Bureau of Standards takes too long to verify the product," said Mr Macharia.
Besides, he said, most manufacturers have specific parameters for the raw materials that many farmers have been unable to meet. "If farmers meet these specifications we will have no problem buying their products. Our inclination is actually to build a local aloe very industry to reduce our dependence on imports," said Mr Macharia.
Interconsumer Products uses aloe gel as a component in various personal care products they manufacture.
For international beauty product manufacturers such as Beiersdorf East Africa, makers of the Nivea brand, all raw materials are bought through their mother and shipped to the local subsidary, leaving them no chance to buy from the local market.
Other aloe producers have blamed the government's slow pace in drafting a policy for the subsector. Mr William Arusei from the Baringo aloe biodiversity project reckons that the policy has taken too long at the AG's chambers and needs to be completed to enable growers sell their produce in the international market.
Baringo farmers came into the national limelight last year when they opened the first aloe vera extraction factory in Kenya. It is however yet to become operational.
Mr Arusei said that once the guidelines are in place, they can also seek permission from the government to harvest wild aloe. The guidelines give the Kenya Wildlife Services KWS the mandate to license aloe vera dealers and to control its extraction.
"We will inspect farms of those who want to grow aloe and check their methods of extraction so as to avoid harvesting which is detrimental to the environment," said Mr Ibrahim Lubia from the licensing department at KWS.
Aloe plants in the country are registered as an endangered species under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species CITES under the safeguard of KWS.
Aloe has gained prominence with the current craze for natural herbal products by consumers.