‘Cursed’ plant that made goats toothless now a culinary delight

Mathenge plant made headlines for all the wrong reasons after farmers blamed it for the deaths of livestock. A group in Baringo has learnt how to make chapatis with it and earn an income

Mathenge, an exotic plant introduced several years back to curb desertification and provide fuel in arid and semi-arid lands was for over a decade in the news for the wrong reasons.

Farmers had blamed the plant, whose scientific name is Prosopis Juliflora for the deaths of hordes of their goats and rendering others toothless.

However,when you now enter Endao Village in Salabani, you discover that among the IIchamus community, the infamous plant has found a new culinary role.  This is after the Kenya Forestry Research Institute (KEFRI) conducted an analysis on whether the plant’s pod was harmful for human consumption and discovered that it does not have harmful effects.

In the village the smell of chapatis wafts through the air as a group of 15 made up of men and women work out a gastronomical delight from Mathenge pods.

Symon Leitore, the group’s facilitator says they formed the group in 2005 after the government took them through various trainings on how to use the mathenge pods in making food.

Mary Kokut says they have been preparing chapatis, mandazis, uji, cakes as well as using the pods flour to brew alcohol .

         Mix with flour

“Despite the tree being once termed as a curse in our community, it has brought us joy since we can make money out of the deadly Mathenge tree,” she says.

She says they have been taken through training in Garissa, Turkana, Tana River and also in Kenya Forestry Research Institute  (KEFRI) institution in Baringo county.

To make excellent products they mix the Mathenge flour with  wheat flour.

Kokut says the plant has helped them during drought season, considering the area is a semi arid area.

“We are a pastoral community and after knowing the importance of the tree we no longer move from place to place in search of pasture because we can mill the Mathenge pods and use them in cooking and also as animal feeds,” says Kokut.

In a day, the women produce more than 100 chapatis, which they sell in the community.

According to her the products are good for consumption and no one should have a notion that it might be poisonous.

The group secretary Samuel Montorosi says the pods are  packed with proteins and carbohydrates.

He adds that they also use the trunk of the plant in making furniture, which they sell to various institutions.

“Who would have thought that this Mathenge plant can lose its bad image as a choking weed and win a place as one of the undiscovered treasures in our community,”  the secretary says.  The group is making money out of the pods, though they face a lot of challenges.

The group has resorted to cooking their chapatis in open air after the house they used to cook in was submerged  by floods after Lake Baringo burst its banks.

The group lacks the machine for milling the pods and they are calling on the government to support them in ensuring that they achieve their dreams.

     Hit headlines

They want the government to identify  a market for them since they don’t have one outside their community.

The community sometimes back hit the headlines when they went to the High Court claiming the plant was harming their livestock. They took a toothless goat to the court as exhibit. The High Court, however, ordered the government to compensate farmers for the losses. Attempts have been made to produce energy out of the plant. Five years ago, Cummins factory was opened in Marigat Baringo South to produce electricity using the Mathenge plant.

But it has faced a setback since the community did not allow the company to harvest the plant. The Cummins company is now at a risk of closure since it has been dormant for three years. The plant has quickly become invasive and now occupies an area of over 600 square kilometres in more than six counties. The plant was introduced in Kenya from South Africa in the late 1980s to stop desertification.

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