The tall and leafy croton tree, found in East and Southern Africa, is most commonly used as firewood and charcoal. If it is not cut down for energy, it is cleared to make way for cash crops like palm oil and coffee. Flowering twice a year, the tree produces small brown nuts that usually end up decomposing on the ground.
While others previously saw more value in removing the trees, Cosmas Ochieng, CEO of EcoFix Kenya, is carving out a business turning the nuts into biofuel and various other added-value products such as fertiliser, animal feed and cosmetics. “We wanted to introduce a new cash crop,” he says.
The business model encourages local farmers to plant and harvest croton trees rather than other crops by offering them a reliable source of income. The nuts are then processed at the company’s factory into a variety of products. EcoFix processes over 3,000 tonnes of croton nut each year, working with over 6,000 farmers.
The company was started in 2012 with the sole purpose of using the nuts to create biofuel. Clients in Kenya included large-scale corporates like multinational food company Del Monte which used the biofuel for its diesel generators. Croton oil can also power water pumps and tractor engines. Compared to other fuels such as diesel, croton is cheaper and generates far less carbon dioxide emissions.