- Meru Herbs has found a niche in the global biotic market, turning villagers in semi-arid region into exporters of quality products.
- While they grow some of the produce on their three acres, they also only source from various contracted organic farmers.
- The products are exported through Fair Trade channels to Japan, Italy, France, Austria, Germany, Scotland and Canada.
- Meru Herbs is under the trusteeship of the Catholic Diocese of Meru and is still a key part of the project, as they share the management.
Inside a rectangular building in Tunyai, Tharaka Nithi County, five workers dressed in white and green overcoats, matching caps and gloves and plastic shoes are busy arranging packed produce.
In another section of the building, three more are spreading ginger and hibiscus tea leaves on a dryer to ensure nothing goes wrong, while in yet another section, two are putting labels on boxes, which are destined for the export market
“Welcome to Meru Herbs,” Andrew Botta, the projector coordinator at the institution says, before he takes us on a tour of the firm.
Meru Herbs grows and processes various organic products for the export market.
However, the community project is like the proverbial prophet, who is little appreciated at home but feted abroad.
“Over 90 per cent of our products that include Carcade/Roselle or Hibiscus tea, herbs such as lemon grass, ginger and chamomile and jams made from mango, papaya, lemon, guava, papaya and pineapple are for the export market. We grow them organically,” says Botta.
While they grow some of the produce on their three acres, they also only source from various contracted organic farmers.
They buy fruits at between Sh25 and Sh50 per kilo, depending on the season. On the other hand, hibiscus goes for Sh30 fresh per kilo, chamomile Sh60 and lemon grass at Sh25. Once harvested, the produce is sorted, graded and weighed as high hygiene standards are maintained.
“We process the fruits into either syrup or small cuttings, which we bottle with natural preservatives such as lemon juice. For the herbs, we dry and package or mix them with black tea, which we source from Imenti Tea Factory,” explains Botta.
The products are exported through Fair Trade channels to Japan, Italy, France, Austria, Germany, Scotland and Canada.
Botta traces the start of the institution in the semi-arid region to establishment of a domestic water project dubbed Ng’uuru Gakirwe Water Project (NGWP) in 1990 by the Catholic Diocese of Meru in collaboration with the Italian government.
“The project was initiated to cater for the community’s water needs, which saw residents start growing food under irrigation,” he says.
With sufficient water, an Italian who has lived in Kenya for years encouraged some farmers to start growing Carcade (Hibiscus sabdariffa), his initial goal being to help farmers in the drought-prone areas to earn some income. Some 430 farmers heeded the call.
"Farming Carcade marked the beginning of Meru Herbs,” he says. “We started the institution in 1991 as a cooperative society for members of the water irrigation project.”
The members later established a savings and credit cooperative society to fill a gap in financing and keep their earnings safe by offering members a place to deposit savings and provide low interest loans.
Meru Herbs is under the trusteeship of the Catholic Diocese of Meru and is still a key part of the project, as they share the management.