Asili Natural Oils (ANO) Ltd was established in 2012 in Rwanda. Asili is a supplier of natural ingredients to customers in the personal care and specialty oils industry around the world and connects hundreds of smallholder farmers to high-value international markets. Asili, supported by the TradeMark East Africa Challenge (TRAC) Fund, is 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.
Through this process, the project intends to deliver added-value benefits at levels not yet achieved in Rwanda (or likely East Africa). These benefits will be secured across the local supply-chain, covering both Moringa oil products and other oils such as Calabash, Geranium, Passionflower and Wild Basil, while adhering to socially-motivated practices and securing internationally recognised ‘fair trade’ and ‘organic’ certifications. The objective of achieving the certifications is to ensure that the benefits of value-addition (margin enhancement) are shared at all levels of the value chain, particularly among Asili’s smallholder farmer suppliers, while also distinguishing Asili’s products on the global market and realising greater social and commercial benefit.
To this end, Asili established in October 2015 Rwanda’s first ever Organic Moringa Growers’ Organisation, comprising a collection of about 20 smallholder farmer households who will participate in a new outgrower model of farming. Membership includes a purchase guarantee from Asili for all moringa seed produced by the members and prioritization for new product support. For example, these farmers will receive planting seed for Wild African Calabash, a new oilseed not marketed to the cosmetics industry prior to late 2014. To further incentivise farmers to sign an agreement with Asili, farmers will receive an annual lease payment on their land to invest in greater land productivity and payments for the health insurance of their dependents; something they often cannot afford. Asili hopes that the creation of this organization will impact approximately 100 individuals and ensure that the added-value of future organic certification efforts reaches its farmers.
Elsewhere, Asili is preparing to launch Chia Seed oil. Recognising that Chia seed is a popular ‘super’ food in the North American and European markets, Asili pressed a sample that is currently being tested by a European buyer and an American laboratory. The oil has a neutral odor and is easily absorbed into the skin, leaving a silky-smooth finish. It also has a rich balance of Omega-3 and Omega-6 essential fatty acids, making it attractive as a cosmetic ingredient. Asili has planted a pilot plot at their facility, and although it is in an early stage of development, interest in this new product from within the cosmetics industry is encouraging. Asili will plant Chia in several locations to determine supply-chain viability and will encourage farmers to do the same when they have secured substantial buyers. If successful, after its moringa, calabash and passionflower products, Chia would be Asili’s 4th natural oil on the market.
Finally, in 2014 Asili sold approximately 50 kg of Wild African Calabash, a previously unrecognised indigenous oil within the cosmetics industry. Scarcely one year later sales have increased to 200 kg. Although still small in volume terms, this is encouraging as it signals growing customer interest. Asili is encouraging farmers to identify unused areas of their land to ramp up supply to take advantage of new market opportunities. “We are very excited about the potential of Wild African Calabash. 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 seeds had no economic value, but there is a realisation that this wild growing plant and its seeds can be a strong source of supplementary income.” – Matt Gantz, Director at Asili