MANILA, Philippines – Petron Corp., the country’s biggest oil refiner, boosted its net income by four-fold in the second quarter of 2015 on higher sales and improved margins despite depressed prices in the world market.In a statement, …
Nickly Kipkorir, a 23-year-old university student, has opened a factory to process stevia (a natural sweetener) in Kitengela near Nairobi, looking to provide a service which is mostly available in countries like China and Malaysia.
Mr Kipkorir, who also farms the crop, said he did not understand why the plant which is gaining popularity in the country has to be shipped abroad for processing and the extract later exported for sale.
The law student raised money for setting up the factory from savings made from farming on his five-acre farm.
The Public Health ministry and the Kenya Bureau of Standards issued him a licence in July.
“I installed a stevia extractor which simply separates the sweetener from the fibre then we package the final product in powder form for sale,” Mr Kipkorir told the Business Daily.
“I collect an average of one tonne of dried stevia leaves every three weeks,” he said.
Global demand for the sweetener has been rising as more beverage makers switch to the crop as a response to health-conscious consumers.
Coca-Cola and Pepsi have began using stevia to sweeten their soft drinks. The confectionary industry’s demand for the sweetener has also been growing rapidly.
Stevia is a fairly new plant to most African countries. It was introduced in Kenya in 2009 and is grown in areas like Kericho, Nandi, Nakuru, Laikipia, Uasin Gishu, Narok, Meru and Bungoma.
Mr Kipkorir, through his company Stevia Kenya, helps farmers to collect and transport their produce from farms in the South Rift, Centraland Western Kenya counties to his new factory.
He currently provides a ready market to over 50 small-scale stevia farmers, paying them Sh150 per kilogramme.
“The commodity was initially shipped to China where the sweetener was extracted before being processed in Malaysia,” Mr Kipkorir told Enterprise.
“I doubt if there is any stevia factory in Africa,” he added.
His target customers are bakeries and beverage makers based in Nairobi and Mombasa. The entrepreneur, who has so far employed five workers, said his aim is to begin exporting the product when he hits his target of collecting a tonne every day.
Stevia Kenya has also began importing seedlings from Malaysia for onward sale to farmers at Sh5 each. Once planted, the crop takes only two months to mature.
International companies have been investing in stevia farming across the country.
PureCircle, a Malaysian company which farms the crop in Kericho County, recently completed a Sh3.87 billion cash call to help it expand the business in the country and in Paraguay where it also grows the crop.
READ: Malaysia firm raises funds for Kenya dealings
The firm began growing stevia in Kericho in 2012 but has already expanded to Meru, Bungoma and Uasin Gishu counties with plans to begin operations in Kiambu.
The company has contracted some 4,000 farmers to supply it with 20,000 tonnes of stevia monthly for export.
A number of studies show that stevia offers some relief for illnesses including high blood pressure, diabetes, indigestion and heartburn, cold and flu, as well as teeth problems. It can also help in weight loss.
It has anti-bacteria and anti-oxidant components which can prevent wrinkles, dandruff and hair loss.
Fresh stevia leaves can be used as a sweetener in beverages, such as tea, or as an edible food garnish.
A serious political crisis is playing out in Malaysia, with no certainty as to when, or whether, it will be resolved. At the heart of this crisis is Prime Minister Najib Razak, who recently shut down an investigation into his financial affairs by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC).
The investigation had been triggered by allegations in the Wall Street Journal that RM 2.6 billion (US$700 million) had been transferred to Najib’s personal accounts from companies linked to 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB). 1MDB is a state-owned strategic development company that is reportedly RM42 billion (US$11 billion) in debt.
Local news outlets The Edge Financial Daily, The Edge Weekly and the Sarawak Report also published reports critical of Najib and 1MDB. Authorities quickly suspended or blocked these outlets and have issued an arrest warrant for Sarawak Report editor Sarah Rewcastle-Brown.
Najib has also dumped senior figures in government, including his deputy, Muhyiddin Yassin, and attorney-general, Abdul Gani Patail. Senior opposition MPs were barred from travelling abroad, where they would certainly draw more attention to the scandal.
More recently, the police have raided MACC and arrested several of its officers. MACC’s senior staff have been left desperate for support, which came this week from opposition leaders who were once fierce critics of the commission.
Meanwhile, the funds in question are now said to have come from an anonymous donor in the Middle East. This explanation, however, still fails to account for why they were transferred to Najib’s accounts.
The currency has hit a 17-year low of 3.9 ringgit per US dollar – due in part to the political instability. International investors have pulled RM11.7 bilion (US$3billion) out of Malaysian shares, and the FTSE Bursa Malaysia KLCI Index has fallen by 3.8%.
Nevertheless, Najib has succeeded so far in protecting himself from critics both outside and within his ruling party, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO). UMNO has been the central party of government since Malaysia’s independence from Britain in 1957.
Revolt looms from within
Najib’s defensive crackdown has narrowed the space available for political debate, and UMNO is almost the only arena left open for his challengers to regroup. And regroup they very likely will – after all, 1MDB is not the only problem UMNO must confront. Before his dismissal, Muhyiddin had said that if an election were held tomorrow, UMNO would certainly lose.
Police arrest a supporter of #tangkapnajib (Arrest Najib) at a protest this week in Kuala Lumpur.
Muhyiddin’s comment added insult to injury after UMNO’s ruling coalition lost its popular majority in the 2013 general election. Since then, UMNO has struggled to narrate its relevance in a positive manner to the Malaysian public. Instead, the government has appealed consistently to identity politics founded in race and religion. As part of that strategy, it imprisoned opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim in February, after he was found guilty of contentious sodomy charges.
The government has also stoked opposition disunity by fostering disagreements over hudud punishments. This caused the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) to abandon Anwar’s People’s Alliance coalition. Stronger forms of identity politics might be encouraged by competition between UMNO and PAS, which UMNO has sought to harness by proposing a ” unity government“.
Yet now, thanks to 1MDB, it is not only the opposition that appears unstable. Rumours of a revolt within UMNO have begun to circulate, and Muhyiddin’s home state of Johor appears a likely base for such a revolt.
Muhyiddin recently met the Sultan of Johor, whose sons appear to have posted coded anti-Najib messages on Facebook. Several UMNO youth leaders in Johor have resigned their positions. This week, Johor Chief Minister Mohamed Khalid Nordin weighed in by decrying UMNO’s “unusual credibility crisis”.
Further, in addition to this state-based unrest, former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad is a key Najib opponent inside UMNO. He has repeatedly called for Najib to step down. For Mahathir, Najib’s loss of public credibility is tantamount to an erosion of Malay Muslim sovereignty.
Now, as government and opposition forces scramble to resume competitive politics after the events of recent days, it seems this national crisis is still in full swing.
The nations represented at this week’s ASEAN’s summit have an interest in seeing democratic order and solidarity restored in the host nation.
The regional dimensions of the crisis
The divisions at home stand in stark contrast to Najib’s opening address to this week’s ASEAN foreign ministers’ meeting, where he advocated a regional future forged through “preserving harmony”. Under Najib, the host nation has declared the building of a “people-centred ASEAN” as one of its primary goals.
As Najib pointed out, ASEAN nations face complex regional challenges that none can meet alone. As ASEAN establishes a single regional economy, the need for community-building efforts to underpin co-operation seems obvious.
Yet events in Malaysia are undermining its capacity to articulate a vision of a shared and prosperous future for Southeast Asians under its leadership. In light of the crisis engulfing Malaysia’s political class, it seems no-one involved in formal politics is presently capable of promoting intercultural solidarity, social cohesion and community resilience.
Since 2013, UMNO has devoted few resources to promoting Malaysia as a model for such a vision. Politically, it ceded that narrative to an opposition that surged electorally, but is at present in a state of open disarray.
For now, it seems that only NGOs can step into the space left open by the state of the political contest. Lately, the G25 group of retired civic leaders and the Global Movement of Moderates (GMM) have publicly advocated improved community relations. Such interventions are patently necessary, as illustrated by a recent racial brawl in a Kuala Lumpur shopping mall, where blows were exchanged while a crowd chanted anti-Chinese slogans.
Australian institutions, too, have a role to play. They could engage groups like the G25 and the GMM, and be ready to assist Malaysia and ASEAN to build a regional community defined by values like interculturality.
With Malaysian politics experiencing an extreme form of competitive restructuring, broader forms of engagement that include civil leaders are more essential than ever. After all, the next election is still three years away – assuming there is a next election.
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