Moringa oil, produced from Moringa seeds is used in the personal care and specialty oil industries around the world such as farm-to-face beauty products. In the early 2000s, smallholder farmers in Rwanda were encouraged by various donor groups to plant Moringa trees as a way to diversify income. In doing so, smallholder farmers often sold their livestock or used cash savings to buy speculatively priced seeds and/or seedlings. When the Moringa trees produced their first crop, farmers were disappointed to find that there were no markets for their yield. These smallholder farmers lost all faith in the Moringa trees. Founded in 2013, in Rwanda, Asili Natural Oils (ANO) Ltd is a social enterprise, manufacturing and supplying natural cosmetic ingredients to customers in the personal care and specialty oils industry around the world in order to benefit those who need it most – the thousands of Rwandan smallholder farmers, by connecting them to high-value international markets. Moringa has been grown in Rwanda’s Eastern Province for several years, but most farmers had not made a single sale owing to the absence of a professional oilseed processor.
In 2014, Asili Natural Oils, with the support of TradeMark East Africa Challenge (TRAC) Fund took up the challenge to convince these smallholder farmers that there was value in planting Moringa seeds by implementing a project to ‘scale up’ the commercialization of oil pressed from the kernel of the Moringa oleifera tree seed, supplied by Rwandan smallholder farmers. The project has delivered added-value benefits at levels not yet achieved in Rwanda. These benefits have been secured across the local supply-chain, covering both Moringa oil products and other new indigenous oils such as Passionflower Oil, Wild African Calabash Oil and Chia Seed Oil while adhering to socially-motivated practices and initiating the process for fair-trade and organic certifications. This project has made it possible for Asili to not only satisfy the demand from their largest client (The Body Shop) over the long-term but to also consider other clients with similar levels of demand. With support from TRAC, Asili tripled its production capacity and introduced new products for its growing customer base.
To this end, Asili has seen a supply chain expansion that now includes 2,137 smallholder farmer households vs 314 at the project initiation. These smallholder farmers were provided agricultural training, as well as free organic seeds and/or seedlings and other inputs. To further incentivize more smallholder farmers to join, Asili created a new outgrower farming model through the “Organic Farmers’ Association”. Groups of smallholder farmers would petition Asili with a letter to participate in this program. These farmers would consolidate their holdings and agree to farm under international organic standards. In exchange, Asili essentially would treat these farmers as a type of preferred supplier, paying an annual lease on the land and various incentives related to performance (i.e. tree height, yield, etc). These incentives include free livestock, solar lanterns, school fees and payment of health insurance (‘Mutuelle de Sante’). In addition, these farmers would be given priority hire to work on the farms and earn a competitive wage, and also receive free transport for all Moringa seed yield. As of December 2017, 11 Organic Farmers’ Associations have been created.
A lot of positive feedback was received from these farmers, with new groups of farmers frequently petitioning Asili to partake in the programme. One of the responses made from a Moringa farmer “I get money to support family. I like the idea of being an organic farmer and I pay school fees for my children.” Matt Gantz, the Director at Asili had this to say, “We are very excited about the potential of Moringa Oil. The market is responding to its qualities and we are very hopeful that we can entice buyers in Europe and North America to look at it more closely. For farmers these Moringa seeds had no economic value, but there is a realisation that this drought-thriving tree and its seeds can be a strong source of supplementary income.”