Women group use cactus to generate income

Business & Finance Counties Editor's Pick Laikipia

A women’s group in Laikipia has come up with an innovative way on an invasive species that has been a bother to livestock herders in the region.

An organization which is in Laikipia North Sub county is working with women groups to make juice, wine and jam to generate income from invasive cactus plant that herders are doing everything possible to eradicate due to their prickly pear nature that kills animals when they feed on them.

Some of the Laikipia Permaculture Centre products made of invasive cactus species. They make Jam, wine and juice products which they sell to residents. Photo by Muturi Mwangi

“When animals feed on cactus fruits, they block the throat, stomach or intestines hence killing them. The plant chokes grass hindering it from growing,” Hudson Narerio, an accountant at Laikipia Permaculture Centre tells KNA.

Narerio notes that when they went to pick the prickly pear fruits for processing at first, they were being condemned by residents that they were encouraging their growth instead of helping to eradicate.

“They were opposed to the idea but after paying them to get the fruits they embraced it,” Narerio says, adding that is one of the ways to eradicate the plant. They buy a crate of cactus fruits at Sh500 from residents.

Laikipia Permaculture Centre is an organization that started in 2014 and works with Maasai women in Laikipia County in a bid to generate income by using naturally available resources. The centre started with four women groups and later developed to 15 groups comprising women, youths and men totalling to 960 people from pastoral communities.

Organization Administrator, Ms Ann Tome says the plant is a menace in the area but they are using it as an opportunity for residents to gain income.

“We are looking into getting an oil pressing machine that will be used to extract oil from cactus seeds that will go to the cosmetic project. Cactus spread through its fruits and we are using them to make jam, wine and juice,” the administrator notes.

Ms Tome reveals that Italian Aid joined them last year to support the communities around in value addition on agriculture products. Further says, they underwent one year incubation training through the Laikipia Innovation Programme.

She said they encourage residents to practice permaculture “permanent agriculture,” farming methods aimed at averting value degradation.

Ms Florence Larpsi, Food Processing Manager at the organization says that their aim was to turn the problem into a good solution.

“We also teach our women on leadership and how to do farming rather than relying on livestock only as source of livelihood,” Ms Larpsi says, adding that members’ lives have improved and they can afford to get good nutrition.

She notes that their products prices range between Sh 250 and Sh150 for 500 grams and 250 grams of jam, a litre of juice Sh 500 and Sh 250 for half a litre. Cactus wine can fetch up to Sh1000 a litre. Their target markets are residents, supermarkets and individuals.

Cactus fruits, they are bought from residents at Sh500 per crate. Photo by Muturi Mwangi

Ms Tome reveals that plans are underway to build a bigger cactus products processing centre aiming to upscale the production capacity. She urges Kenyans to use locally available resources for their advantage rather than seeing obstacles in every situation.

She adds that their cactus products are rich in calcium, vitamin A and C, and also boost blood production in the body. The Permaculture centre is also working on introducing grapes which will help them in producing similar products once they succeed in eradicating the invasive cactus.

According to the UK – Based centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International (CABI), it is estimated that the invasive species cost the world almost 5 per cent of Gross Domestic Product which translates to US $1.4 trillion per year. The invasive weeds affect the most vulnerable people threatening their economic growth.

CABI further shows that if the invasive weeds are not managed more than 70 per cent of natural pasture will be invaded. They note in Laikipia about 500 square kilometre area is invaded by Opuntia Stricta popularly known as cactus.

Opuntia Stricta was first introduced in Kenya by the colonialists in the early 1900s as natural fencing but later became an invasive species.

The women’s group processes and package honey going by the brand name Naishumu organic natural honey in bid to supplement their earnings.

By Muturi Mwangi

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