When Li Changhong visited Kenya for the first time in 2008, he didn’t expect to become involved with agricultural products, a sector that was completely new to him. He used to deal with beer for a Sino-French joint venture in China.
In January 2009, Li set up an international trading company engaged in exporting agricultural products in the East African country.
He describes himself as a farmer, but, in his capacity as general manager of the company, this farmer is different.
He did a lot of research and as the business grew, he found its mode of trading could no longer meet demand. He began to explore new options.
In 2012, he invested 1 million Kenya shillings ($9,624.6) to register Kenya Eshine Agricultural Planting Co, a business fully engaged in the planting, processing and export of agricultural products.
In his research, he learned that, in Africa, moringa grows in northern Kenya and southwestern Ethiopia at a height of about 1,300-1,500 meters above sea level. Moringa oleifera is the most widely cultivated variety of the plant. It is commonly known as moringa, the drumstick tree or the horseradish tree.
It is fast-growing, drought-resistant and native to the southern foothills of the Himalayas in northwestern India, and cultivated in tropical and subtropical areas in Africa. Rich in vitamin A, it is a cash crop in Kenya, being used for food and in the production of cosmetics.
In 2014, he tracked down trees in Kilome, about 70 kilometers southeast of Nairobi, and decided to plant in the area after lab analysis.
He rented 10 hectares in Kwale to plant moringa over a term of 20 years. The area is 1,350 meters above sea level and dry, which is ideal for the plant. He mobilized 150 local households to plant about 57 hectares of moringa. Around 2,000 local farmers are now directly or indirectly involved in the business.
“The plant is suitable for the local farmers as it does not require any investment from them,” says Gladys Mutuku, assistant chief of Kwale. “Li provides them with seedlings, tells them how to grow them and later collects seeds from them.”
After three years of hard work, the plant is ready for harvesting. Li is expecting to harvest about 20 tons of the fruit this year. To date, he has invested a total of about 15 million yuan ($2.2 million) in the endeavor.
He says he has purchased 1.3 hectares of land in the plantation and is going to set up a plant early this year to process moringa seeds, leaves, flowers, roots and bark.
The company plans to plant a total of 34 hectares in addition to the 100 hectares planted by the local farmers in 2018. About 300 local households will be involved in the business by the end of next year. By then, the company will employ around 10,000 local farmers in the business.
Extracts from moringa will be sold mainly to the US and European markets, Li says. He expects to harvest 60 tons of moringa and generate a sales value of more than 50 million yuan in 2018.
Source: chinadaily.com.cn | Updated Jan 26