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26 July 2017
RUC2014 Blog 17: New dye made from weed revives Kenya’s textile industry and brings local fabric costs down Print
Thursday, 07 May 2015 15:10

A researcher from Moi University has worked out how to extract natural and environmentally friendly dye from weeds that threaten food crops, leading not only to the revival of a local textile business, but to the textile industry at large in Kenya.

From despised weed to welcome cash crop
Not so long ago the presence of invasive tagetes minuta (Mexican Marigoldweed) was hugely disturbing to Anna Emali, a subsistence farmer and a mother of five from Cheboiywo village in rural Uasin Gishu County in the Western part of Kenya. Without intervention Mexican Marigold would smother her maize crops, taking food from her family’s mouth and threatening their survival. Anna, and other small-scale subsistence farmers in the region, had to remove the weed from their farms through tilling, pulling them out or burning them. This ongoing physically demanding task, though essential for crop health and food security, was resented for the amount of time it consumed.

“Without intervention Mexican Marigold would smother her maize crops, taking food from her family’s mouth and threatening their survival.”

Fast-forward to the present and Anna welcomes the sight of flourishing Mexican Marigold weeds. She’ll work just as hard at getting them out – but with relish rather than resentment! Why? Because through the application of research, Mexican Marigold has become a cash crop that makes a positive contribution to quality of life for Anna and her family.

“Mexican Marigold has become a cash crop that makes a positive contribution to quality of life for Anna and her family.”

An unexpected turning point

A few years ago a floundering textile business, Rivatex East Africa Company, was bought from the Kenyan government by Moi University as a facility for research, product development, extension and production. The textile company was in difficulty due to a mismanagement and a lack of market demand. While the University considered ways of making the textile company viable it came to light that in their textile production process Rivatex East Africa was relying on expensive dyes imported from Italy, India and South Africa. This was a problem. The inhibitive cost of the imported dyes motivated Prof. R.K. Mibey of Moi University to undertake research to find out if there was a way to come up with a locally produced dye that would be more cost effective. Research on the extraction of natural and environmentally friendly dye from the inflorescence (i.e. the complete flower head including stems, stalks, bracts, and flowers) of the Mexican Marigold was the key. Research on the weed indicated that pigment extracted from Mexican Marigold is a primary colour that, in combination with red and blue, can be effectively used to produce other dye colours.

 

Traditional kanga cloths in every colour made by Rivatex East Africa are for sale in their outlets. [Image credit: Picture from rivatex.co.ke]

 


A win-win scenario for subsistence farmers and the textile manufacturer

The discovery of a use for Mexican Marigold benefits both local industry and the local subsistence farming community. Rivatex East Africa has an arrangement with local farmers, including Mrs. Emali, to sell the weeds they pull out from amongst their maize crops to the textile business. The farmers take the entire plant to the Rivatex East Africa milling factory, and earn 30 Kenya Shillings (0.3 USD) per kilogram. Some entrepreneurial farmers have set aside land to exclusively grow income generating Mexican Marigolds.

While the whole plant is used to generate the dye, the waste material left over after the extraction process is given back to the farmers to fertilize their fields.

 

Revival of the Kenyan Textile Industry

Being able to produce affordable dye in Kenya has been a key contributing factor to the revival of both Rivatex East Africa and the textile industry at large in Kenya. Cost-effective, good-quality locally produce dye led to reduced textile production costs. Rivatex East Africa now has established outlets in major towns including Nairobi, Kisumu, Eldoret and Kitale. The cost reduction has fed through to these outlets and to local retailers, with shops able to offer the more affordably produced fabrics at lower costs. This affordability factor has had a knock-on effect of rejuvenating businesses in the tailoring sector in Kenya. The interest in buying affordable fabrics has also had a positive impact on the cotton-farming sector. Rivatex East Africa itself is now a viable and sustainable success story with products sold locally and exported to international markets.

Rivatex East Africa itself is now a viable and sustainable success story with products sold locally and exported to international markets.”

Rivatex East Africa has emerged as a center for training Textile Engineers and also offers internship opportunities for students from Moi University. More jobs have been created at the company and living standards amongst the community from which the business is staffed have improved.

Several years down the line Rivatex East Africa now produces eleven different dye colours using Mexican Marigold that are used for their wide range of cotton and polyster products. There are plans for more colours in the future.

 

Anna Emali has a regular source of income

On a good day Anna Emali harvests and delivers 10 kilograms of Mexican Marigold to Rivatex East Africa. This earns her $3, which is a significant amount for someone who used to live on less than $1 a day. Most importantly, she can now feed her family adequately.

When it’s time to make the children new school uniforms Anna can now afford the fabric she needs due to the price in Kenyan fabrics coming down, and pays for it with the income she earns from selling Mexican Marigold to the university milling factory.  

 

Call to Action

To find out more about  Rivatex East Africa Ltd. Visit their website or follow them on Facebook.

This article was informed by ‘Dyeing of cellulose-based fabrics using dyes extracted from plants' by Prof. Mibey K. Richard, Tuigong R. David, and Makumba N.A.

The next blog in this series can be found here. The previous blog in this series can be found here

Research Uptake Communicator

Ms. Silvia Matum
Research Assistant Research Directorate  silviamatum@gmail.com

 

Research Uptake Communicator

Mr. Daniel Kibet Rop
Senior Assistant ICT Trainer/Web Developer, Department: ICT Directorate kibetaraprop@yahoo.com

Researcher

 Prof. Richard K. Mibey, Vice Chancellor, Moi University, Email: muvc@mu.ac.ke

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