Beyond the sting of Prosopis juliflora

A sub-county in Kenya has transformed the menace of an invasive species into a host of benefits

By: Yvonne Baraza

Prosopis-infested section in Marigat sub-county, Baringo County of Kenya: Photo – Axel Fassio/CIFOR-ICRAF

Prosopis juliflora, also known in Kenya as “mathenge” or simply “Prosopis”, was first seen as a blessing. The Government of Kenya introduced Prosopis to restore the Njemps plains, beginning in Ngambo and continuing in Loboi until it spread to the better part of Marigat sub-county. Prosopis transformed the denuded and devastated plains into a greener and densely tree-covered landscape. In so doing, it eliminated the characteristic sandstorms, denuded lands and firewood shortage that threatened the community’s livelihood. The spread of Prosopis has been aided primarily by livestock moving from place to place in search of pasture. This provides an opportunity for the seeds in the dung to germinate and grow into the new grazing areas and corridors.

However, the blessing has become a curse. The spread of Propsis has been rapid and extensive, devastating both to the agropastoralist community of Ilchamus/Njemps and Endorois (the two major tribes in the sub-county) and to tree diversity in the area. Its rapid spread is also attributed to lack of community control and management, leading to a variety of adverse impacts. Livestock has been reduced, for example, especially goats that shed off their teeth after heavy consumption of sugary Prosopis pods. It has also led to loss of grazing and croplands; poisonous thorns that can harm humans; displacement of people from their homes; and blockage of feeder roads, paths and rivers, among other challenges. Some of these challenges are shown in the pictures below.

Prosopis-infested farmland in Marigat: Photo – Axel Fassio/CIFOR-ICRAF
Prosopis blocking feeder roads in Marigat sub-county: Photo – Axel Fassio/CIFOR-ICRAF

Sensitization, training and stakeholder engagement through the years by World Agroforestry (ICRAF) under the Governing Multifunctional Landscapes (GML) project and other stakeholders have built capacity in the affected communities to live with the effects of Propsis, enabling them to turn challenges into opportunities. Some noticeable milestones include the Loropil Environment Youth group, which comprises six males who have turned Prosopis thickets into a recreational area through pruning and judicious spacing on the land. Their effort has increased the aesthetic value of the dense thicket near the shopping centre, enabling community members to spend their leisure, shelter from scorching sunlight, hold meetings and even play games.

Community members in Marigat managing Prosopis by pruning: Photo – Axel Fassio/CIFOR-ICRAF
Recreational spot created after the management of the Prosopis: Photo – Axel Fassio/CIFOR-ICRAF

Similarly, some individual community members continue to turn the Prosopis menace into a benefit. Humphrey Lengelip, for example, who has benefited from the GML project training programs on sustainable woodfuel practices is now using Propsis to support his livelihood.

Humphrey Lengelip – Prosopis farmer in Marigat: Photo – Yvonne Baraza/CIFOR – ICRAF

Mr. Lengelip uses Prosopis for many uses around his homestead. He constructed a canal along designated areas, and then used cow dung with ingested Prosopis seeds to build a Prosopis fence around his homestead. He also uses Prosopis fence to construct livestock resting shed/ ”boma”, setting aside lands for grazing and crop farming to control livestock movement/encroachment. As well, he uses Prosopis fibre (bark) for traditional roofing huts and construction of huts/houses. Finally, he manages Prosopis trees in the homestead to provide shade and firewood and to produce charcoal for cooking energy and as a source of livelihood. Some other community members also use Prosopis to make chairs and hang beehives, among other benefits.

Fencing using Prosopis: Photo – Yvonne Baraza/CIFOR – ICRAF
Humphrey Lengelip using Prosopis for firewood and building his hut: Photo – Axel Fassio/CIFOR-ICRAF

“Having been born and raised in Ngambo, I have known the sting of Prosopis. Even though I have known it to kill our livestock, block our roads, prick our children, and cause displacement of some of our community members, I do not want to focus on the negative effects but rather to turn the negativity for my benefit with the knowledge gained from the GML project training. I am now not only able to make a living out of Prosopis, but I can improve my homestead by fencing, creating recreation spots within my homestead, control my livestock and even use it to construct huts within my homestead.”

Humphrey Lemelip – Farmer in Ngambo, Marigat Sub-County in Baringo
Prosopis used to construct calf-pen and sheep/goats’ sheds: Photo – Axel Fassio/CIFOR-ICRAF
Humphrey Lengelip using Prosopis to create a recreation shade and Prosopis fibre/back for roofing his traditional hut: Photo – Yvonne Baraza/CIFOR – ICRAF

From the two examples, management of the invasive Prosopis juliflora through thinning, coppicing and pruning can successfully reduce thickets and create beautiful recreation areas within and without homesteads. It can provide well-formed trunks for construction and quality charcoal production. And it can open infested lands for cultivation and pasture growth, among other benefits.

Over the last four years, the GML project in Marigat sub-county aimed at showcasing that management of Prosopis thickets is possible both at household and community level. Future efforts should therefore focus on investing in and building the capacity of the community at scale to manage the invasive Prosopis juliflora. This can encourage tree diversity, grow other high-value tree species, provide quality wood for timber and charcoal production, and process pods both for human consumption (Prosopis flour/fortified cooking or baking flour) and livestock feeds, among other benefits.

Woodfuel remains the primary energy source for many households in sub-Saharan Africa. Likewise, it meets the primary cooking energy requirements for more than 60% of households in Kenya. However, woodfuel use, mainly charcoal, is increasingly associated with deforestation, land degradation and threatening of the water towers. Policy, legal frameworks and institutional arrangements are inherently inadequate, while practices are inefficient. This increases demand, exerting further pressure on the forest and tree resources.

The GML project, launched in 2018, sought to contribute knowledge, advance policy options and engage stakeholders in pilots for more sustainable woodfuel value chains. However, in the same year, there was a ban on intercountry charcoal transportation and trade and a national logging moratorium. This outlawed part of the charcoal value chain in Kenya. Nonetheless, the GML project supported several studies to understand the value chains, actors, practices, economics and governance mechanisms related to charcoal. It engaged with decision makers and stakeholders at larger to share, support and inform policy and practice.

Four years on, GML marks the end of the project with reflections on the status of woodfuel production, trade and use. It will explore short-term and long-term objectives on governing multifunctional landscapes and more sustainable woodfuel value chains in Kenya. One key venue is the 2021 International Woodfuel Conference in Ghana in November whose theme is “Sustainable woodfuel value chains in Africa: Governance, social, economic and ecological dimensions.”