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Pastoralists unearth value in devastating weed

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Pas­tor­al­ists in the arid Baringo dis­trict have fi­nally dis­covered a huge be­ne­fit to a weed that has for over two dec­ades in­vaded their land at a fast rate and killed their live­stock.  Prosopis ju­li­flora loc­ally known as Ma­th­enge with­stand harsh cli­matic con­di­tions ex­plain­ing why it grows fast in arid and semi arid areas and cov­er­ing huge tracts of land space wip­ing out other spe­cies along the way.

The weed has also dis­figured the jaws of live­stock which feeds on it due to the hard pods while caus­ing tooth decay res­ult­ing from the pods’ high sugar con­tent. In ser­i­ous cir­cum­stances an­im­als have lost their tongues and even died after feed­ing on the weed. Its pois­on­ous thorns have also been an eye­sore caus­ing in­flam­ma­tion to both human and live­stock that takes weeks to sub­side and in some cases where the in­fec­tion has per­sisted un­treated, has led to am­pu­ta­tion of the limbs.

However farm­ers with the help of sci­ent­ists have now man­aged to har­vest the pods and grind the them into a powder, in order to make high en­ergy feed-blocks for live­stock po­ten­tially provid­ing a sup­ple­ment­ary feed source, rich in car­bo­hydrate and pro­tein, when other graz­ing is lim­ited.
Com­munit­ies in the area are now mo­bil­ising on a large scale to col­lect and pro­cess the pods and mar­ket them. Already feed man­u­fac­tur­ers have ex­pressed in­terest in buy­ing the product. Bee-keep­ers plant­ing ma­th­enge’ near hives, have also be­nefited as its flowers are an im­port­ant source of nec­tar and pol­len for high qual­ity honey.

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Farm­ers use a ma­chine called a ham­mer mill to grind the pods. First after the pods are har­ves­ted they are dried to en­sure min­imum mois­ture con­tent so that the ham­mer mill can com­pletely grind them. The grin­ded pods are then moved to an­other ma­chine that re­sembles the ma­chine used to grind maize which then makes the final blocks.

“These pods if you have a taste of one you will find that it has a lot of sugar in it. The outer cover has a lot of sugar and much of it, apart from the sugar there is also a lot of fibre in it. So there is car­bo­hydrates, there is the sugar and the seed. The seed is ac­tu­ally very rich in pro­teins. So the trick is that when the pod is eaten whole, that pro­tein that is in the seed is not util­ised be­cause it goes through the al­i­ment­ary canal without being as­sim­il­ated in the body,” says Patrick Mutua an as­sist­ant Live­stock Pro­duc­tion of­ficer who is in­volved in this pro­ject. The blocks which are high in en­ergy are mixed with other feeds.

This do­mest­ic­a­tion of the weed by the plant is among the many ways that the sci­ent­ists have been ad­voc­at­ing in the ef­fect­ive man­age­ment of the in­vas­ive weed. Ac­cord­ing to the sci­ent­ists, erad­ic­a­tion of the plant has proven to be very dif­fi­cult or some­time im­possible as the seeds can stay dormant for as long as 10 years but ger­min­ate very ag­gress­ively ones con­di­tions are con­du­cive. In­stead they have pro­posed har­ness­ing the tree for dif­fer­ent uses while using tech­niques such as prun­ing and thin­ning of single trees.

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A sur­vey done by the Kenya Forestry Re­search In­sti­tute (KEFRI) and the De­part­ment of Forestry in 2007 showed that ‘Ma­th­enge’ tree products could earn farm­ers in arid and semi-arid areas, Sh155,000 per house­hold every year if well mar­keted.

The first doc­u­mented in­tro­duc­tions of Prosopis ju­li­flora to Kenya was in 1973 for the re­hab­il­it­a­tion of quar­ries near the coastal city of Mom­basa, with seed sourced from Brazil and Hawaii. It was later in­tro­duced into the semi-arid dis­tricts of Baringo, Tana River, Turkana dis­tricts and other arid and semi arid areas due to its ex­tens­ive root sys­tem which was in­ten­ded to re­verse soil erosion and de­for­est­a­tion.

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