By Abdi Zeila
This article is in response to the news item published by The East African Standard on the 18th of June titled “Dreaded weed haunts residents,” referring to the thorny and aggressive tree that has invaded many areas of our dry land districts – Baringo, Garissa, Tana River, Turkana – and it continues to spread. Recent estimates suggest it covers hundreds of thousands of hectares of land and the area is increasing every year. But Kenya is not alone - mathenge (known by the scientific name of Prosopis juliflora) is a major problem in Ethiopia (it is called the ‘devil tree’ by the pastoralists in the Afar region), Sudan, Chad, South, Australia, USA, India, among others. It was inadvertently introduced to Kenya in the early 80’s through a development project.
Regarding control, the experiences from these countries and from the scientific community is that it is hard or almost impossible to eradicate mathenge, but it can control (at least partially) through utilization. And this is what most communities are doing, and this what we need to do in
Even if it were possible to eradicate it, there would be no consensus on this among the communities affected. For instance, there are many people currently using for charcoal production in several districts in
Charcoal is one important use that mathenge can be put into. This is, indeed, happening and this needs to be supported by both the government and its development partners. Most of the charcoal production in
Mathenge charcoal producers could be organized into associations and supported with financing and knowledge to produce quality charcoal from mathenge. This is what is done in the Afar region of Ethiopia where the mathenge is also a problem. The wood can also be used for poles, and replace materials currently used for scaffolding during construction. This is indeed happening in Garissa, where one pole now sells for over KSh 100 (about US$1.5).
Mathenge also produce food for human beings and feed for livestock. In
Simple hand-hand mills exist and are used in place like
Fortunately, the government is pro-actively engaged with the communities in the areas affected by mathenge and with various research and development partners to find a solution to the problem, and more specifically through utilization. For instance, the Arid Land Resource Management Project (ALRMP), a GOK program funded largely by the World Bank and that operates in xx districts, has been championing the use of mathenge for charcoal.
The Kenya Forestry Research Institute (KEFRI) has also been promoting the charcoal use as well it use for furniture. So is ICRAF (the World Agroforesrty Centre that is based in
The charcoal use is so far the most use of mathenge. In India, for example, mathenge is primarily used for making charcoal, and hence meets more than two thirds of the energy requirements of people living in the rural arid and semiarid lands. CSDI and ALRMP are collaborating in promoting this knowledge through stakeholder training in several affected districts. There are many charcoal kilns that can be used and ALRMP has been promoting several with the help of local institutions, in particular KEFRI and CSDI.
Some of the charcoal kilns promoted produce 4-5 times more charcoal than the traditional methods used by the locals. We have the casamance kiln, which originated from Senegal, and which costs about KSh 2000 (US$29) to assemble and can last for 6 months at constant use. It is important to know how what is the standing biomass available for charcoal production. The use of GIS can aid this process. Recent estimates by CSDI for Tana River and Garissa districts alone suggest enough standing prosopis biomass that can meet the national energy needs for one year, and the needs of northern Kenya (including the hundreds of thousands of Somali refugees) for two decades years at the current available biomass.
What is needed next is promoting the wide-scale use of the tree. Therefore, here are some suggestions for moving forward: