Monday, May 17, 2010

Ocimum Cultivation Helps Save Kenya’s Kakamega Forest

May 12, 2010
FARMERS living along Kakamega Forest in western Kenya have discovered a wonder plant that is not only improving their income and livelihoods but also helping to conserve one of Kenya’s last remaining rain forests.

KAKAMEGA, KENYA- COMMUNITIES around Kakamega east in western Kenya are deriving multiple benefits from ocimum, a plant that was hitherto seen as a weed and occasionally used for sweeping and medicinal purposes.

They have managed to boost their income, improve their livelihoods and protect the plant from extinction and the forest from destruction.

Ocimum is a genus of about 35 species of aromatic annual and perennial herbs and shrubs in the family Lamiacea, mostly native to the tropical and warm temperate regions of Africa and Eurasia.

Ocimum basilicum or Sweet Basil, is a culinary herb of major importance. It is an aromatic plant, an erect, much branched subshrub 30-60 cm tall with hairy stems and simple opposite green leaves that are strongly scented.

Ocimum is a local shrub that was mostly found in Kakamega forest growing naturally.

Communities around the forest could go into the forest and pluck leaves from the plant which they put in hot water and covered a patient with a blanket to cure diseases like malaria and flu.

The communities also used the plant for fumigating their granaries and as brooms for sweeping. But today, they are deriving income while also preserving the plant and conserving the forest.

Misheck Agweyu of Isecheno village in Kakamega east is one of the local farmers who bear testimony to the multiple benefits of the plant. “I have decided to domesticate the plant to conserve it because it was getting diminished. I get a lot of money from this plant,” said Mr Agwey who grows ocimum on his three acre shamba (farm).

“After three months, I get KSh30,000 (US$1=KSh70) which means per year, I get KKSh90,000. I used to get three bags of maize which was giving me KSh40,000, so this is a lot of money,” he said. “As an old man, I have managed to build a permanent house from ocimum.”

Mr Agweyu also sells ocimum seedlings, with a spoonful selling at KSh30. From his enterprise, he is able to employ some people and send his children to school. “If God is with us, we will expand the shamba,” he said.

But equally important, Mr Agweyu has resigned from illegally exploiting forest resources for timber and is now contributing to the conservation of Kakamega forest.

“I was always being arrested because I was a thief of the forest. I was getting firewood, charcoal and grass,” he said.
“But I have totally changed and I am not even seen in the forest. I am also employing people who were going into the forest to cut down trees.”

Mr Agweyu grows maize alongside ocimum. He says although he has reduced maize production, his food security has not been affected because he derives income from ocimum. “I don’t eat ocimum but I eat indirectly because I get money and buy food.

The other advantage of ocimum is that there is no need for fertilizer and the stems can also be used as firewood.

“We also encourage farmers to plant ocimum around homes because it repels mosquitoes,” Mr Agweyu says.

Besides these benefits, Mr Agweyu is able to maintain three wives because of his improved financial capacity.
“I have three wives because I have a lot of money,” he says.

Marita Lumiti of Muleche village in Kakamega east is another beneficiary of ocimum farming. She has been growing ocimum since 2000 when the project started.“Through this plant, I have been assisted in many ways. We are not having mosquitoes biting our children and I also buy food and pay school fees,” says Mrs Lumiti.

“From ocimum, my farm has improved from being the poorest and my first born daughter has completed school.

I was living in a hut but now, I have a permanent and decent house,” she said. Mrs Lumiti says her livelihood has improved because of ocimum farming.“I get KSh7,000 from one harvest and I harvest three times a year. It is not a lot of money but it is helping me,” she says.

The farmers sell ocimum to Muriro Farmers Conservation Group (MFCG) whose mission is “To relieve pressure on biodiversity through promotion of alternative, non-forest derived income generating activities for the community.”
MFCG has a factory which was built by farmers and equipment was supplied by donors.

The factory produces oil which is used to make Naturub® – balm and ointment – that is sold in retail chains in Kenya.

The group was formed by the Kakamega Environmental Education Programme (KEEP), a grassroots organization working to save one of the last remaining rainforests in Kenya, through environmental education and creation of awareness among local communities, and the development and implementation of economic alternatives to the exploitation of forest resources.

“The group started because of the need for conservation of the forest and to make the community busy so that they don’t rely on the forest,” says MFCG chairman Thomas Mmasi. “Three quarters of the women in the group are household heads. So we are trying to uplift their livelihoods,” Mr Mmasi said.

Story Courtesy of The Daily IIJ

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