A campaign that seeks to save a herbal plant believed to enhance sexual drive when chewed has been launched in Kakamega Forest.
The craving for the climber, Mondia whitei, popularly known as mukombero in Western Kenya, has led communities to engage in uncontrolled harvesting that has nearly decimated the once exuberant plant which thrived in the forest, forcing researchers to intervene.
The demand for the roots of mukombero has led villagers in Kakamega East Sub-County to sneak into the forest and harvest the plant, before heading to busy market centres to deliver the fresh supply of the herbal roots.
Mr Silvester Mambili, a representative of the Community Forest Associations in Western Conservancy, said traders from Nairobi and Mombasa travel to Shinyalu in Kakamega County to buy large amounts of the roots for crushing and processing into powder.
“The mukombero from Kakamega Forest is very sweet, with a pleasant flavour when chewed. This has attracted people from as far as Mombasa, Nairobi and central Kenya to come and buy the herbal roots,” said Mr Mambili.
The powder from the roots of the plant is used as a flavour in tea, porridge and other drinks.
Efforts to save mukombero from extinction are being coordinated by the Sustainable Land Management/Sustainable Forest Management project.
The project now targets to encourage communities living next to the forest to plant the herb in their gardens instead of encroaching on the forest and damaging the fragile ecosystem.
The Ihondolo area of the Kakamega-Nandi forest ecosystem, which is about 100 hectares, has been severely degraded due to encroachment by local communities.
A nursery for indigenous trees managed by the Kakamega community based organisation has planted 8,000 tree seedlings in a bid to rehabilitate the forest. This year, the group has planted 4,447 tree seedlings on a 5.4 hectares parcel of land.
The group is working closely with the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) in the campaign to rehabilitate and conserve the forest. They have distributed mukombero seedlings and other indigenous species and plants which have medicinal value for planting.
Mr Mamabili said unchecked encroachment on the forest is major threat to its ecosystem and unique biodiversity.
This launch of the project comes as at a time when the final phase of an environmental and social impact assessment (EIA) audit of the planned election of an electric fence around Kakamega Forest is being concluded.
The project targets to promote conservation of the fragile biodiversity in the surviving vestige of the rainforest.
The county governments of Kakamega and Vihiga have pledged Sh130 million to support the electric fence project.
Western region Kenya Forest Service Head of Conservancy Jim Okuto said the actual fencing of the forest is expected to start in January 2020.
Mr Okuto said the environmental audit by KWS involved sensitisation of the community on the benefits of the project.
“The environmental audit is an important component of the project and the community has been brought on board to ensure they support the initiative,” said Mr Okuto.
The project is being implemented by Rhino Ark, a conservation charity which has contributed Sh100 million.