Kenyan Tea Tree Oil Slides Into International Markets
The next time you buy an organic oil product from any of The Body Shop stores around the world, a farmer in Mt Kenya may be smiling all the way to the bank. The US-based cosmetic giant that manufactures natural and ethical products has signed an agreement with Earth Oil Extracts, a local company in Kenya, for the supply of tea tree oil.
The company deals in essential oil extraction and has partnered with farmers who grow essential and pressed oil crops in Nanyuki and Naromuru areas. They link the farmers to the international market by doing business with international companies in the cosmetic industry. Earth Oil entered into an agreement with The Body Shop in 2003.
The volume of tea tree oil supplied to The Body Shop has steadily grown and reached 1000 kilos between 2009 and 2010. Farmers are paid a fair price for their product including a 10 percent organic premium based on the costs of production.
This is changing the lives of the 540 small scale farmers who cultivate 210 acres of tea trees and Palma Rosa. In 2010 the farmers earned $1.8 million from the production of 330,000 kilos of tea tree leaves. In 2007 they also formed The Kenya Organic Oil Farmers Association (KOOFA) to ensure that their collective interests were protected. Their earnings and association have helped them to improve their livelihoods and pay school fees for their children.
The benefits of the Earth Oil Extracts/KOOFA partnership do not end in the company’s accounts or farmers’ pockets alone but have trickled down to the rest of the community. A fund has been established for community projects determined by an investment panel that has all the stakeholders on board. So far, the panel is funding a secondary scholarship program for bright but underprivileged students in the community as well as the construction of a community hall. The community hall will have a computer and library that will be open to the community. It will also be a venue for demonstrations on new farming methods.
To ensure that the farmers’ products meet international market standards, USAID/Kenya through its implementing partner Kenya Horticulture Competitiveness Project (KHCP), has assisted the farmers and Earth Oil Extracts to conform to organic and Fair-trade standards. Farmers have been trained on organic tea tree production that has seen three million tea trees planted. They have also been trained in record keeping, financial management and environmental conservation. Already, 15 farmers have adopted low cost drip irrigation for water conservation.
Long term investment
Earth Oil Extracts is currently running product development trials on new essential oil crops. They are testing Organic Palmarosa and Organic Geranium and in 2012, the company will be developing Organic Coriander Leaf Oil for the first time. The company has also invested over 10 million shillings for a processing factory in Nanyuki. According to Wayne Barrat, Earth Oil’s Operation Director, the move is in line with their commitment to build a lasting impact in the region. “We want to create long-term partnerships with producer groups throughout East Africa and to strengthen the natural products industry within East Africa by introducing new crops that have strong markets. We also wish to increase the capacity of the producer groups so they become experts in the field of essential oil production,” he said.
It is expected that in the coming years KOOFA farmers will have to expand their production to cater to more ‘big name’ consumer companies. The company has recently entered into an agreement with another large US consumer soap manufacturer for the supply of tea tree oil from Kenya. Although the details are still being worked out, the signing of other cosmetic giants will no doubt help KOOFA and earth Oil Extracts to expand their capacities and increase profits.
By Clara Kakai