When money grows on trees

Once viewed as worthless, the humble croton nut of East Africa has proven to be a valuable source of biofuel, fertiliser and even chicken feed.


The nuts from the croton trees used to fade back into the earth in northern Kenya, while their branches were the favoured firewood for small farming communities. But when people learned that a company was paying for croton nuts, they took to the forests to collect them.

Alan Paul, the 62-year-old chairman of EFK Group, originally realised the nut’s potential when he worked as a consultant researching biofuels. In 2012 he founded a backyard operation based on this natural product “literally lying on the ground”, and has grown it into a business with an annual turnover of $100,000.

Though inedible to humans, the croton nut can be processed to make fuel, organic fertiliser, animal feed and briquettes. EFK Group can’t keep up with demand for its products; the 500 tonnes of nuts it harvests each year is “only a tenth of what we want to be doing,” said Paul, who hopes to extend to neighbouring countries.

“I didn’t know that these trees or seeds were useful for anything,” said farmer Martin Ndirango, EFK Group’s second-largest supplier, who pays villagers around $0.50 per kilogram to gather the nuts. “Most of the people around this area are unemployed, so when they got an opportunity, they grabbed it,” he said.

With $40,000 of EFK Group’s revenues going back into the community, Ndirango noted that nobody cuts down the trees anymore. “Before, we would cut down these trees in a very bad way, as everyone would say that these croton trees had the best charcoal. But now, we see the advantage of them. We can collect the seeds, get cash and buy food, and the trees stay.”

Hannah McNeish for Sparknews


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