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Sourcing on the Slopes of Mount Kenya

By: Micha Walter
Posted: December 11, 2008, from the February 2009 issue of GCI Magazine.

Earthoil Kenya is overseeing a community grower group of approximately 400 small-scale farmers producing organic essential oils. Here, tea tree is harvested at Mount Kenya.

Strong demand for organic cosmetic products and the market’s desire for new and innovative specialty organic ingredients has encouraged companies to invest in and increase their sourcing and production of organic oils. Among those, Earthoil Plantations has increased its production capacity of certified organic pressed seed oils at its Kenyan base over the last few years—enabling the company to supply increasingly larger volumes of these oils.

Increased market demand for specialty organic oils such as fruit seed oils and other new oils with novel properties, encouraged Earthoil to make this investment. The list of products manufactured at its Kenyan facility includes: organic and wild-harvested seeds; kernels and nuts pressed from indigenous plants such as moringa, marula and yangu; and fruit seed oils such as papaya, avocado and pomegranate. Much of the raw material sourced by Earthoil is from the Eastern African region (Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania), and Earthoil Kenya sources raw product from a combination of commercial farmers and wild-harvest community collection groups in mountainous and remote regions, as well as from Earthoil’s own organically-certified grower-group in the Mount Kenya region.

At its Mount Kenya project, Earthoil Kenya is overseeing a community grower group of approximately 400 small-scale farmers producing organic essential oils such as tea tree oil and pressed seed oils such as sunflower oil. Earthoil trains field officers and provides agronomists to deal with all aspects of the farming of these crops. Many of these growers, who were previously subsistence farmers growing food crops such as maize, have openly welcomed these new projects as a way of providing a valuable second income for their families.

Goals for the project include producing a substantial quantity of organic sunflower oil annually by 2010. Aside from the additional individual income from which the co-op farmers benefit, the achievement of fair trade status through the “Fair For Life” program in 2008 is expected to attract increased market demand, and reliable long-term income for the farmers. One of the requirements of these grower projects is that a community fund be established and operated by the farmers (with support from Earthoil) whereby areas needing development (health clinic or school facilities, for example) can be improved. Earthoil has found that these communities work hard together to reach a common goal and that, while the logistics of involving so many people is huge, the end result provides real benefits for people in both the farming group and the wider community.

The management of this project as well as the sourcing of products from wild-harvest collection groups is a huge task, according to the company, with focus required to ensure products are sourced sustainably while providing a fair and reliable income.