alexa Shame as Kenya to buy ‘own viagra’ from China and US - Daily Nation

Shame as Kenya to buy ‘own viagra’ from China and US

Friday June 24 2011

By GATONYE GATHURA, [email protected]

Kenya could soon start buying “her own natural viagra” (mukombero) from China and the US as the economic giants plan mass cultivation of the plant.

According to the head of bioprospecting at the Kenya Wildlife Service, Mr Kavaka Mukonyi Watai, China has already carried out studies on the plant and found it to contain sex enhancing qualities.

Mukombero, as the Luhya call the plant, is a creeping vine that grows in Kakamega Forest. Its roots are being sold informally in most Kenyan towns as an aphrodisiac.

“The plant, also known as white ginger, grows in a few African countries, including Kenya.

The Chinese must have obtained it from the region without informing communities that they could benefit from commercialisation of their natural resource,” Mr Kavaka told the Saturday Nation on Friday.

He said the species is being introduced as a cash crop in Vuka, China and Florida in the US.

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He said this was how Africa was losing its unique resources to rich nations who are out bioprospecting for organisms with potential for commercialisation.

Bioprospecting involves searching for, collecting and deriving genetic material from samples of biodiversity that can be commercialised.

A study carried out under the National Natural Science Foundation of China last year concludes that the plant is a serious candidate for the development of a new and safer drug to rival the world’s best selling Viagra.

Treating erectile dysfunction

“Mondia whitei (the plant’s scientific name) is an interesting target for the development of a new drug for the treatment of erectile dysfunction,” says the study carried out by O.N.K. Martey and X. He and published in Science Alert.

The study proved the effectiveness of the plant as an aphrodisiac while enhancing human sperm. The Chinese also found it reduced the period a sexually inexperienced male rat took to engage a willing female.

“We have known this all along, but unfortunately we have been moving very slowly to make a significant mukombero brand and create wealth for communities where the plant is found,” says Mr Kavaka, who has developed a process of refining and processing the plant.

For almost a decade, KWS and other partners have been organising farmers in Kakamega to domesticate the plant and have initiated a small factory to process it into a commercial product.

The initiators of the project, KWS, the International Centre for Insect Physiology and Ecology (Icipe), Kenya Forestry Research Institute (Kefri), and World Agroforestry Centre (Icraf) are undertaking a protracted patenting process with the Kenya Industrial Property Institute.

However, this may be too little, too late since it cannot stop the Chinese or Americans from going ahead and seeking international patents or creating a global brand.

Icipe has gone ahead and produced Mukombero Tonic, which is on the shelves of local supermarkets, but this has yet to make any economic impact let alone contribute significant financial gains for farmers who are domesticating the plant.

A study carried out on the project concluded that the farmers were getting too little to be interested in the crop.

It indicated that farmers were making a measly Sh4,000 or less in a year. “In order for the on-farm cultivation project to achieve its objectives, Icipe needs to make the project profitable for affiliated farmers and attractive to harvesters,” says the study.