By Zacheaus Otaba (2015)
Turkana County has been invaded by Prosopis juliflora, locally known as Etirae or Mathenge. The bushy plant has spread very fast, reducing grazing land.
For some time now, pastoralists have been urging the county government to curb the spread of the plant.
Kenya Forest Research Institute (KEFRI) says that Turkana County has the largest cover of Prosopis juliflora. Delivering the report on a study carried out in Kakuma in Turkana West to find the best ways to control the spread of the species, KEFRI director, Dr Ben Chikamai, said that the plant was not entirely a curse, as it could be used to make food for both animals and human beings.
Pastoralists have been complaining of the destructive nature of the plant. Other than eating up their livestock’s grazing land, it destroys the teeth of animals that feed on it. KEFRI explains this is due to the high sugar content in the plant’s pods. The positive news is that the pods can now be ground and mixed with other staff in the ratio of 30:70 to make animal feeds. This reduces the spread of the species through animal dung. It has also been proved to contain 50 per cent of the nutrients needed by animal body.
The same pods can be used as human food if ground and mixed with baking flour at the ratio of between 25-30 per cent to make cakes. This ratio was reached at after establishing that the Prosopis product had a bitter taste that needed to be sweetened if used as human food.
“As an institute, we have tried this and it works. We can get food for our people and also feeds for our animals. What we need is to capacity-build communities on the use of this tree and its products in order for us to be food secure,” Dr Chikamai said.
Figures show that if the Prosopis pods are harvested all over the county, they can make up to 2000 tonnes of its product.
Apart from being a food source, the tree is also a source of hard wood for making furniture.
Dr Chikamai urged for the county governments to support the move by KEFRI to control the spread of the tree by converting it to human benefit through its products. He said that one kilogramme of ground Prosopis pods is sold at a Nairobi market at Sh15. This shows that if the communities will have the capacity to convert these pods to consumable form, they can make up to Sh30m a year.
However, he warned that people should be careful with the types of pods they use at any given time, since some of them may be contaminated with aflatoxin, which is harmful to human life.
The opening of the KEFRI centre in Lodwar is expected to promote maximum use of this tree and its products. The institute will be offering training for the farmers on various capacities.
Some of the areas seriously hit are Turkana North and West, especially along Lotikipi plains, where it has taken the largest cover. This is because of the availability of water sources there.
Last year, fishermen in Lake Turkana raised their concern over the effect of the plant in the lake, which includes tearing of their fishing nets and injuring their feet while fishing.
On its side, the county government promised to control the spread of the species, but failed because it had no capacity, and opted to involve KEFRI and Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) to help in its control.
The revelation of this research is a plus to the county government, since it will only need to find the milling machine for the communities for this exercise.