Biofuel in a nutshell: The energy and cash potential in croton trees
Sheila and Martin Kamai are small-scale farmers in Nyeri County who sell nuts from the croton tree (locally known as mukinduri), and their only regret is that they did not stumble across their venture earlier. During the last season, the farmers, who are in their mid-20s, produced over 40 tonnes of croton seeds from their 100 trees. They sell their harvest to AAA member, Eco Fuel Kenya, a for-profit social enterprise that uses the seeds to make biofuel, organic fertilisers and plant health products.
Promising returns “We started the business last year and the returns are promising; we are able to meet our daily financial obligations,” Mrs Kamai said. The couple are among about 2,000 individuals earning a living from collecting and selling croton seeds to EFK, which the company buys at between Sh8 and Sh10 per kilogramme. “Between October and December 2013, the season was good and we managed to produce and sell 40 tonnes of seeds from our farm, and we purchased some more from neighbouring farms,” Mrs Kamai said.
Mr Cosmas Ochieng, EFK’s director of operations, said farmers with croton trees and individuals who collect the seeds from forests have found a decent income stream. The company operates in Naro Moru, Nyeri County, and has contracted thousands of farmers and collectors to supply seeds. Once the produce is weighed and graded, the collectors are paid immediately through mobile money platforms. “In an hour, a collector can make between Sh200 and Sh300. F
or farmers who have croton trees, we buy seeds directly from them, but we also have 1,800 collectors who supply our 50 collection centres,” said Mr Ochieng. In a single season of three to four months, Ochieng said his company collects about 300,000 kilogrammes of seeds. “We use the seeds to develop the Croton Nut Oil (CNO) biofuel, which can replace diesel fuel in slow-spinning engines and it has no chemical additives. “Due to its natural properties, CNO burns cleaner than traditional diesel fuel, lubricates engines and contains zero per cent sulfuric content. Sufficient customer testing in central Kenya and laboratory studies show that CNO is ideal for use in diesel engines that spin at 1,400rpm or less, such as stationary diesel generators, water pumps and tractors,” Ochieng said.