By George Munene
Through the Kakamega Natural Forest Catchment Conservation Organization, KANFCCO, Mukombero farmers in Kakamega County have signed a deal to supply 100 metric tonnes of the herbal root to Germany every year.
With a ready market secured, KANFCCO—which currently has about 360 farmers in its books—is recruiting growers of Mukombero (Mondia whitei) as well as other medicinal tuber plants like Maruku or lesser yam (Dioscorea esculenta).
“To archive the export quantities required by German company Man Fields we will need to expand our pool of farmers to at least 2000,” explained James Ligare, KANFCCO’s secretary.
Founded in 2018, KANFCCO is an umbrella body charged with the environmental conservation and equal benefit sharing of Kakamega’s genetic resources. Together with the Kakamega County government, Ministry of Agriculture, and ward administrators it has been mandated to ensure sufficient Mukombero is being produced across the region to meet this growing export demand.
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This is made even harder to achieve given the wild vine flourishes agronomically when grown in tropical climates with sufficient rainfall. Being a community organisation, KANFCCO also deals exclusively with farmers based in Kakamega.
The few farmers growing the indigenous aromatic roots of Mukombero are a satisfied lot:” Compared to maize and sugarcane—crops I previously relied on—Mukombero has so far given me the best return on my investment,” elatedly said Alfred Wafula, an early Mukombero farming convert.
Thought of sorely as an aphrodisiac, the mention of Mukombero often invites averted snickers among Kenyans. The woody climbing plant however has a myriad of other health benefits. Among them, as an immune booster, and sedative that alleviates symptoms of hypertension as well as insomnia. It also contains essential nutrients such as Vitamins A, D, E, and K and vital minerals like Sodium, Calcium, Zinc, and Iron.
It can be consumed after a quick wash as a fresh root or value-added powder, natural wine, juice, or yogurt.
All these variants of Mukombero can be accessed locally through KANFCCO or its affiliate outlets. The body is also keen on adding value to the plant’s roots before export as this will ensure farmers reap maximum returns.
The crop takes three years to mature and with good agronomic practices is harvestable every three months for up to five years.
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“Being a climber Mukombero is best grown intercropped with trees such as the Sesbania sesban, a soft-wooded tree that grows rapidly and is useful for fodder and green manure. The soil needs to be farmed to a fine tilth to encourage tuber growth,” Ligare illuminated.
Farmers can purchase Mukombero for propagation from KANFCCO at Sh 50 a seedling or Sh 5000 for one kilogram of seed.