Are you struggling to unlock the secrets of successful Aloe Vera farming in Kenya? Although Aloe Vera promises prosperity for farmers, it comes with its own set of challenges. Unpredictable weather, pest invasions, and market uncertainties cast shadows over the dream of reaping the benefits of cultivating Aloe Vera.
Aloe Vera is a succulent,drought-resistant plant that grows naturally in the bush in some arid and semi-arid areas of Kenya. It’s a medicinal plant with many uses and benefits, including manufacturing herbal skin and hair products.
In this article, we take you through a guide to aloe vera farming in Kenya. From the best varieties to plant and cost to land preparation and harvesting, you’ll know everything you need for success. Keep reading!
Top Aloe Vera Species Grown in Kenya
The best five aloe vera species to cultivate in Kenya are:
- Barbadensis Miller: It boasts succulent leaves with gooey juice and can grow everywhere. Moreover, it boasts superior medical properties. This variety is good for making beauty and health items.
- Zebra aloe: It has zebra-like, white-striped leaves. Some sub-species have spotted leaves instead of stripes. Owing to its beauty, zebra aloe is a perfect ornamental plant for landscaping. It has minimal medicinal uses.
- Aloe ferox: This aloe variety has other names, including Bitter aloe and Cape aloe. As the latter name suggests, Aloe ferox is a South African plant. The Aloe ferox has thorny leaves and tart gel. Most people grow it for its healing potency and applications in the medical sector.
- Aloe arborescens: Other common names for Aloe arborescens are Candelabra aloe and Krantz. Its tall stem branches into long, slender leaves. The Aloe arborescens’ value emerges from its healing properties and extensive usage in the manufacture of herbal skin care products.
- Aloe Vera var. Chinensis: It is a small plant with compact foliage. Like Zebra aloe, this is a decorative plant for landscaping.
Note that these plants grow best in some dry regions of Kenya, including:
- Taita Taveta
The Planting Cost for an Aloe Vera Acre in Kenya
As you plan to get into aloe farming, consider the major production costs per acre. You must allocate money to land preparation, irrigation, fertilization, pest and disease control, labor, seedlings, and harvesting.
See what you would incur to grow aloe plants in one acre in the table below:
|Activity||Minimum Cost in Kenyan Shillings||Maximum Cost in Kenyan Shillings|
|Installation of the irrigating Equipment||20,000||30,000|
|Pest and Disease Management||2,000||5,000|
People harvest and process aloe vera according to why they cultivated it. Hence, you should add the harvesting and processing costs to the overall minimum and maximum costs above.
Potential Earning From an Acre of Aloe Vera
Many factors can affect your annual aloe vera yield and profitability. Overall land management effort makes a huge difference. So, follow instructions properly when selecting the best propagation method, preparing land, planting, fertilizing, controlling bugs and diseases, etc.
An acre of aloe vera could give you up to sixty thousand kilograms annually if you do everything right. According to experienced aloe vera farmers locally, a kilogram goes for thirty Kenyan shillings in the market.
Hence, 60,000 kilograms of aloe vera can give you around 1,800,000 Kenyan shillings. If you deduct the total cost, you could make up to 800,000 Kenya shillings in profits.
If the harvest is poor, you could make an estimated profit of 100,000 to 200,000 Kenyan shillings per year.
Land Preparation for Aloe Vera Farming
Land preparation is a crucial step when starting your project. It entails the following activities:
- Soil Analysis: One thing to do to ensure your land is ready for aloe vera cultivation is to take a sample of your soil for testing and analysis. When you test the soil, you get an analysis of its nutrients and pH levels. Depending on the aloe vera variety you chose above, you might have to improve the nutrient content of your soil and balance its pH. The soil should have a pH level of six to seven and minimal moisture content.
- Clear the Land: Perhaps you plan to cultivate aloe vera on a virgin land full of grass, weeds, and bushes. If so, clear it to make it viable for tilling and other activities. Cut the bushes, slash the grass and weeds, and collect rocks and debris.
- Plow the Land: Tilling the land makes it suitable for planting. For aloe vera farming purposes, plow the ground thirty to forty-five centimeters deep. Tilling it this way will loosen the soil and increase its drainage.
- Nourish the Soil: You should add organic matter to the soil to improve its fertility. In Kenya, most farmers prefer adding manure to the sandy soil to make it hold the water better.
- Leveling: Land leveling is necessary when getting ready for aloe vera farming in Kenya. It can ensure even water distribution and curb soil erosion.
- Mark the rows: Your land is ready to receive your aloe vera seeds or seedlings at this point. So, mark some rows to simplify the planting and irrigation processes.
Aloe Vera Cultivation
To start an aloe vera farm, and do the following activities:
How should you start an aloe vera plantation? You should choose one of these propagation techniques:
- Seeds: Although they germinate slowly, seeds are an ideal propagation method. You can get seeds from KARI.
- Tissue Culture: The best way to grow pest and disease-resistant aloes is to apply the advanced tissue culture propagation method. It works best when the plan is to do large-scale aloe vera farming.
- Offsets: These are young and fragile plants that shoot from the base of mature plants. You can extract offsets from grown aloe vera plants and transplant them into a nursery bed.
Adequate spacing allows each plant to receive sunlight and air. Moreover, less crowded plants are less prone to insects that bring diseases. Therefore, you should ensure proper spacing for the aloe vera varieties you wish to plant.
The general guideline for aloe vera spacing is to keep plants between 1 and 2 feet (30.48 and 60.96 cm) apart. Keep your rows 3 to 4 feet (91.44 to 121.92 cm) apart.
Generally, here is how to plant aloe vera on your farm:
- Assuming you already marked your rows during land preparation, the next thing is to dig holes. Holes should be as small as the root ball of your seedling or offset.
- Put the seedling or offset inside the holes. Ensure that the top part of the root ball rests slightly over the soil surface.
- Return the soil into the hole and firm it around the seedling or offset. This is to get rid of the air pockets.
- Add 4,000 to 7000 plants to an acre of land. Plant with correct spacing.
- Water your planted offsets thoroughly to trigger root formation and expansion.
Aloe Vera can grow in any soil even if its fertility is low. When planting aloe vera commercially, however, consider fertilizing the soil to increase its nutrients and prevent retarded plant growth.
The soil testing and analysis results should help you determine the nutrient level your soil requires.Here are the fertilization options for aloe vera:
- Slow-release fertilizers: These fertilizers contain enough potassium, nitrogen, and phosphorous, and they work best during the planting phase. Choose a fertilizer product that provides nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium in equal ratios. An acre will use 100kg to 150kg of fertilizer and you should apply it when planting.
- Top-dressing fertilizers: After the application of NPK fertilizers during the planting phase, apply the top-dressing fertilizer. Do not give it all at once. Apply the top-dressing fertilizer in small amounts regularly. Start with a nitrogen top-dressing fertilizer like ammonium sulfate. Apply it every four to six weeks. More potassium boosts overall plant growth and gives it strength to tolerate stress. So, apply potash ninety days from when you planted. Then, continue doing it every four to six weeks. Repeat the same with a phosphorous fertilizer.
- Micronutrient fertilization: If you notice yellowing on leaves, it is a sign that your aloe vera plants have nutritional deficiencies. Watch out for signs of stunted growth by applying micronutrient fertilizers with nutrients like iron, manganese, etc. Foliar sprays are examples of the best micronutrient fertilizers.
Mulching and Weeding
Mulching is necessary when your aloe vera plants are young. It helps them conserve moisture, which prevents dehydration and withering. Mulching is an excellent way to suppress the growth of weeds.
You can cut grass or use any suitable litter to mulch around your plants. Remove the weeds with your hands.
Aloe Vera Irrigation
The best irrigation method to install for aloe vera farming in Kenya is drip. It reduces water consumption and the overall irrigating cost from planting to harvesting. Drip irrigation does not wet the leaves of the aloe vera plant.
So, it prevents ailments and insects. Do not give them excess water to avoid a condition called root rot. The ideal watering interval is two to three weeks.
If your area is windy, like Kajiado and Makueni, your aloe vera plants could lose moisture faster and dehydrate. So, fence your land and plant trees to help block the winds.
Disease and Pest Management Strategies for Aloe Vera
Aloe Vera is still prone to pests and disease despite its ability to tolerate harsh conditions. Thus, use natural and artificial control methods. Aloe vera is vulnerable to these pests:
- Aloe mites: These pests can make your aloe vera cultivation difficult. They eat the plant sap, causing the affected leaves to shrink and dry.
- Scale insects: These bugs can naturally stick themselves on the aloe vera leaves. Like the aloe mites, they suck the juice out of the leaves. Due to this, the leaves begin to yellow and wilt.
- Mealybugs: These insects eat the aloe vera gel, causing yellowing and wilting of leaves.
- Fungis: Aloe vera plants are susceptible to fungi. These pests attach to the aloe vera roots, stems, and leaves. If you fail to control them, they might cause discoloration and rotting of the affected parts.
Diseases that can affect your aloe vera plants include:
- Fusarium Crown Rot: The cause of this illness is fungi. They infect the stem part closest to the soil surface, causing decay. So, keep your soil moist but not soaked.
- Bacterial Soft Rot: It is a bacterial infection triggered by waterlogging, lack of proper air circulation, and poor sanitation. It initiates the development of watery blisters on different plant parts.
- Root Rot: Excessive watering triggers poor soil drainage and root decay. So, irrigate your crops moderately via drip irrigation.
- Leaf Spot: This is a fungal disease that causes ring-like or irregularly-shaped spots on aloe vera leaves. Remove the infected plant sections and protect the rest of the plants with fungicides.
Harvesting and Post-Harvest Activities
When is the right time to harvest your aloe vera leaves? Early or late harvesting can both affect the crop yield. Thus, cut the leaves when they look adequately thick and juicy. The correct measurement of these leaves should be at least 8 inches (20.32 cm) long and 1.5 inches (3.81 cm) wide.
Aloe vera plants take between 18 to 24 months to mature fully. Some experts recommend cutting off around three leaves from one plant about four times a year after
maturity. You should use a sharp knife or scissors to cut the leaves at the base. Place the leaves upside down inside a container to allow the sap to drain.
After harvesting the sap, wash the leaves to remove dirt. Then, store your leaves in a cool and dry place to ensure they do not spoil. Consider these post-harvest actions:
- Look for local consumers who need aloe vera to make healthy juices for sale. Many shops that sell aloe vera juices are here in the capital.
- Look for companies that use aloe vera to produce herbal lotions, soaps, hair oils, and facial creams.
- Aloe Vera has many medicinal properties and health benefits. Local pharmaceutical companies need raw aloe vera plant materials to manufacture drugs and cosmetics.
- Some companies use aloe vera to make nutraceuticals and functional foods. These are dietary supplements in various forms, including capsules, snacks, healthy drinks, etc.
- You only need an e-commerce website or a social media business page to sell anything online in Kenya. As a person involved in aloe vera farming in Kenya, consider selling your products to local and international buyers online. You should follow the correct legal procedures to establish a business in Kenya. Then, use the correct product labeling procedures and find the best distribution channels.