Located about 85 km southeast of the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, Li Changhong's 25-acre Moringa plantation has withstood a prolonged dry spell to retain some luster.
The expansive farm that sits next to the busy highway connecting Nairobi to the port city of Mombasa, is a cherished getaway for the Chinese agripreneur who defied naysayers to introduce Moringa and Aloe Vera farming in a region renowned for acute droughts.
During a balmy mid-morning weather in October, Li huddled with a group of workers from nearby villages to survey the farm filled with succulent Moringa trees and Aloe Vera underneath.
The Moringa and Aloe Vera farm has not only thrived in the face of extreme weather events but has also provided steady income flows to the local workforce.
Teresia Mutua, a 43-year-old mother of four who has been working at the farm for the last seven years, was in high spirits as she explained how her fortunes have changed for the better.
"Since I was employed here, my life has changed a lot because I have managed to educate my children and I live a better life than when I was a housewife," said Mutua.
In addition, Mutua who is a widow said she has acquired essential skills like how to plant Moringa, prune, and harvest the flowers and seeds that are renowned for their medicinal and nutritional value.
Born at a village near Li's farm, Mutua said the tropical tree that is native to Kenya's arid zones has proved to be a viable alternative for local small-holder farmers reeling from the escalating climate crisis.
According to Mutua, planting conventional staples in her locality including maize and legumes has become unsustainable in the face of acute and recurrent dry spells.
Besides employing locals, Li's Moringa farm has also served as a demonstration center on how to plant, apply fertilizer, water, and harvest seeds and flowers from the plant.
Li said he has signed an agreement with 700 local farmers and plans to supply them with free Moringa seedlings for free, to enable them to diversify the crop varieties that can cope with harsh weather patterns.
"We hope to get more farmers on board when the rainy season commences so that they can plant Moringa trees. We can buy the seeds and flowers from the farmers and boost their income," said Li.
Li, who is the Director of Eshine Agricultural Planting Company Limited settled in Kenya in 2008 and was an early pioneer of Moringa farming in the drylands to help meet the high demand in the Chinese market.
Already, the entrepreneur has established a factory on the outskirts of Nairobi where Moringa leaves and seeds are processed into powder and exported to China.
Li said Moringa seedlings and leaves have proved effective in managing chronic ailments including diabetes and high blood pressure, adding that the tree is a cash crop that can provide sustainable livelihoods to dryland communities in Kenya.
His Moringa plantation in the semi-arid Makueni county has twenty salaried employees who tend to the crop and also train local farmers how to grow it to maturity, and earn a decent income from the sale of seeds and leaves.
In the near future, Li plans to establish a Moringa factory near his farm with the hope it will ease the processing of seeds and flowers besides creating additional jobs for locals. Li believes that the country required a new market, enhanced access to capital, technologies, and investments in value addition to boost income from agricultural products
He revealed that through "Company + Model", he plans to scale up the cultivation of Aloe Vera by a critical mass of small-holder farmers in Makueni county through the provision of free seedlings and training on the best agronomic practices for the crop.
Drought tolerant and mainly used as food and cosmetics in China, Aloe Vera can transform the livelihoods of farmers in the arid parts of Makueni county, already grappling with the adverse effects of drought, said Li.
Popular in Kenya for its medicinal value, Li said that once his plans to cultivate 5,000 acres of the crop in Makueni county are actualized, the benefits will trickle down to the villagers in terms of employment across all value chains.
Daniel Munyao, a 61-year-old retired administrator and father of five, said that training at Li's farm motivated him to start growing Aloe Vera which he believes is an ideal alternative to some traditional crops whose future is at stake due to climatic shocks.
"I have chosen to grow Aloe Vera since it does not require a lot of work, is drought tolerant, and has a ready market," said Munyao.
Produced by Xinhua Global Service