21 May 2018

Kenya: Moringa Farmer Eyes U.S.$1 Million From Global Contest

On Thursday, May 24, 2018, Papu Haroon will be placing his bets at an entrepreneur's contest in Amsterdam, in the Netherlands.

Haroon, the CEO of Kilifi Moringa Estate, is among the 27 social entrepreneurs from all over the world selected to pitch for a share of the Chivas Venture $1 million fund. He won the Kenyan Chivas Venture 2018.

Chivas Venture, the brainchild of whisky brand Chivas Regal, is an annual start-up competition that funds promising social businesses from around the world. The show it attracts international technology-savyy individuals, investors, and entrepreneurs.

VEGETATION

Like most great things in life, there is a story behind Haroon's story, which started with the timely discovery of Moringa in 2014.

It started when Haroon visited Matsangoni from Nairobi in 2003 to invest in his father's seven-acre farm. He did not know what to expect.

He says the area was a jungle with thickets of natural vegetation and no signs of civilisation.

Recounting his experience, Haroon said: "I came here and built beach cottages but tourism in the region collapsed. I had to either fly out of Kenya or do something else."

Then he discovered moringa.

He immediately launched a moringa oil extraction company supporting women farmers, widows, people living with HIV and the poor in the coastal village of Matsangoni.

The biggest challenge then was to convince the villagers the "miracle tree" which grew freely on their backyards is a valuable crop and they would squeeze the seeds into a sweet opportunity.

PROCESSING

His first success was the moringa farm owned by people living with HIV at the Matsangoni Health centre.

Haroon who has worked in US and Europe ploughed Sh120 million in moringa processing.

The company was registered in 2015 and began production in 2016.

"Whereas people use moringa for food, we decided to make oil. We have become one of the biggest suppliers of the oil in the global market," he said.

The oil from the estate is mainly exported to the US and Europe for use by cosmetics industries.

The moringa tree, native to India and other parts of South Asia, grows quite commonly in tropical and subtropical climates.

Moringa is called the "Never die tree" in parts of Africa because of its ability to withstand severe drought and to thrive in tough environments.

SUPER FOOD

A perfectly laid back Matsangoni where the factory is located is nothing close to the profitable oil the village is producing.

You get to the estate via an unforgiving bushy and rough road down to the beach front from the Mombasa-Malindi highway.

The village itself is untouched with its mud-walled, makuti-thatched houses and vast undeveloped land.

Here Moringa trees grow in almost every homestead. But just how did this little known village become a leading moringa oil exporter?

In 2014, Haroon approached Matsangoni Health Centre which had a group of people living with HIV to plant the trees on their small garden.

He also encouraged the locals who use the tree leaves as vegetables to preserve the seeds He then invited scientists who advised on adding value to the super food.

NO CHEMICALS

"Most people were planting maize but in this area the cereal does poorly with farms producing one sack per year due to drought. We have replaced it with moringa," he said.

The entrepreneur put the outgrowers into 14 groups of 25 with each being assisted by experts in organic farming.

"We encourage them to plant at least 270 trees per acre. We are doing about 300kg a day," he said.

Farmers are being paid Sh250 for every kilo of the seeds supplied either in small or large quantities since there is no minimum or maximum amount set for supply. Using an oil presser, the oil is extracted, allowed to settle and loaded into barrels.

"These 30 barrels are full and each contains about 200 litres of oil. We have to supply 15.2 tonnes of oil - that is almost 85 barrels - to meet the current order. The reason they buy is because of the quality they get from us. The farmers do not use chemicals," he said during our tour of the 1,000 square metres factory.

40 YEARS

Haroon says for every kilo of oil produced, they use 5kg of fertiliser, with the outgrowers using the waste products from moringa. Haroon also talks about the potential of moringa seeds to turn cloudy, contaminated water into clean, safe drinking for millions. He has signed an MoU with Pwani University to give lectures on the plant and foster Moringa academic research.

Of the 400 outgrowers in Matsangoni, most are poor women who previously relied on their small farms for a livelihood.

Haroon has also employed 37 permanent workers all from the Matsangoni village.

In the factory, we meet Winfred Kawe who is the head engineer oil processing.

"I studied up to Form Two. Earlier, we used to eat the leaves and throw away the seeds," she said.

Winfred has half-an-acre of moringa trees after ditching maize farming.

TECHINICAL ADVICE

She says a three-year-old tree will produce 5kg of seeds. Moringa has a lifespan of 30 to 40 years.

"In our area, the women are the farmers of moringa. It has helped a lot of them. I have been able to pay school fees for my child," she said

Esther Mrabu who guides the 15 outgrowers living with HIV says they opted out of vegetable farming in 2014 to reap from the profits of the seeds and nutrition benefits of the super food.

"We helped them with technical advice by September 2015 they had started harvesting. The first season of that they gave us 35 kilos from the trees. As we are starting the season they have already collected more than 110 kilos. Their condition allows them to be mostly at home," she said.

With the majority being widows, she said moringa proceeds have helped them regain self-worth and earn a living.

"It has helped overcome the thought that a sick person cannot work. They meet here because they come to the clinic so at the same time they take care of the trees."

GOOD NUTRITION

The group meets at the health centre every week on Tuesday.

"We ask them to eat the moringa leaves at least three times a week which offers very good nutrition for them. It has also made them come together. They do not isolate themselves," she added

Haroon says his company wants to empower the farmers to earn more income from the vegetable tree not only from the factory but also by selling to locals, who buy leaves for food.

He has also rolled out a community outreach programme aiming at having more farmers adopt moringa tree.

"Although we have this big project with 400 farms and buying from all over the place, the challenge on the supply of seeds is still there. I am working so hard towards localising the supply of seeds as it is where poverty is at most, "he said.

CHALLENGES

Despite the success Haroon has few drawbacks.

He said, "We are in the interior parts of Kilifi. If I was in Nairobi or Malindi I would simply be able to hire a godown and move my machines. Everything you see over here we have had to build them ourselves."

Skilled labour is another challenge. "You see where we are. Who is going to work here in the middle of nowhere."

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