Youth uncover killer mathenge plant benefits

In July 2006, a toothless goat was presented at the High Court in Nairobi as an exhibit of how dangerous a fast-spreading plant was to the environment.

The case was filed by five residents of Baringo against the government for introducing the tree, Prosopis juliflora, popularly known as “mathenge”.

The tree was introduced to curb desertification in Baringo 32 years ago, but according to the residents it had instead wreaked havoc on the environment.

Because of its fast-spreading nature, mathenge forms impenetrable thickets that choke up other plants and grass, leaving the ground bare and prone to erosion. Its thorns cause paralysis of the limbs, leading to amputation. It also blocks roads and footpaths, the litigants told the court, then.

The residents wanted the government held liable for their suffering and sought an order to compel the State to eradicate the tree and replace it with indigenous ones and formulate policies to regulate, manage and control the introduction of such plants in future.

Fast forward to 2018 and a group of young innovators and researchers from Garissa have identified the economic benefits of mathenge.

They have been conducting studies at the Kenya Forestry Research Institute (Kefri) and Garissa University College with assistance from African Development Solutions (Adeso) as part of a research to identify problems affecting the community and finding solutions. According to one of the researchers, Samuel King’ori the plant is a cure to 27 diseases. Its pods can be milled into flour for making cakes and chapati as well as jam and beverages.

Although the Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs) has not approved the products, King’ori said they are determined to sell the idea to Government Chemist and nutritionists.

Speaking in Garissa town yesterday during a sensitisation workshop for youth, King’ori said the programme is meant to share the benefits of “mathenge” the plant. -KNA

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