Kenya might be the second country in Africa to process gum after Sudan once a resin refinery factory being built in Wajir is commissioned next year. The factory is poised to change the fortunes of people in the Ewaso Ng’iro North River Basin in Wajir, Isiolo and Samburu districts.
Funded through Ewaso Ng’iro North Development Authority under the Ministry of Regional Development, the factory will process gum and resins from acacia trees that grow in the wild in most parts of northern Kenya. The government has released Sh35 million to the authority through the economic stimulus programme to build the factory under Gum Arabic and Gum Resins Development Project.
The factory has the potential to shift the pastoralist-based economy but it is pegged on the willingness of mainly women to collect the raw material.
Minister Fred Gumo, who was in Wajir on Monday to assess the progress of the project, said the building would be ready by February as machines had been ordered from India. It will all cost Sh50 million.
“This means in another six months they should have started processing gum in Wajir. The only other factory in Africa is in Sudan’s capital Khartoum,” he said.
Malakino women’s group at Serolibi trading centre in Samburu District already earns a living out of gum harvesting with more than 200 gum collectors traversing the vast land for it. A member of the group, Ms Pauline Lemalasia, said they had more than 300kg of gum in store but no market.
The gum is used in the food and pharmaceutical industries. The Ewaso-Ng’iro North Development Authority managing director Rashid Amin said:
“We know that the presence of a large number of wild animals pose a danger to women and youth who harvest gum. We will also help resolve the storage issues once the factory is up and running.”
Women go for gum harvesting armed with pangas and accompanied by guards. A kilogramme earns them about Sh60 depending on the quality. Mr Gumo said other projects in the area costing nearly Sh1.5 billion this financial year include a camel milk factory.
Kenya has the fifth largest camel herd in the world estimated at 1.06 million among the Somali, Rendille, Gabbra, and Turkana. Research by Ewaso Ng’iro North Development Authority show that 340 million litres of milk was produced in 2007 valued at more than Sh8 billion.
“Camel milk sector is much larger than cotton and pyrethrum put together,” said Mr Omar Sheikh, a livestock expert in Isiolo.
But only 12 per cent of the milk is marketed at about Sh80 a litre compared to farm gate prices of between Sh25 to Sh30, said Mr Omar.
A small percentage of pasteurised, high quality camel milk from small and large-scale producers mainly in Laikipia District is processed by the only camel milk processing plant in Kenya — Vital Camel Milk Ltd of Nanyuki. It, however, represents about five per cent of marketed camel milk from Isiolo and its environs.
Mr Omar said they were driven by increased international recognition of camel milk as a natural health product in treatment of diabetes and a number of other ailments.