|Dr NAJMA DHARANI, Plant and Environmental specialist|
By Allan Olingo
It has taken dedication and sacrifice to get where she is.
Dr Najma Dharani, a research consultant at World Agroforestry Centre (Icraf) and a lecturer at Kenyatta University, had to device an ingredient that has helped her balance between work and family. She loves plants with a passion and has dedicated her time to research, publishing six books on them.
“The reason I started writing was because I had great difficulty getting books that could describe plants in Africa and so I started documenting all parts of my travel, talked to communities and then published them. Soon a publisher in South Africa picked my work,” says Dr Dharani.
Of her book Amazing Trees and Shrubs’ the first edition had eight reprints and the second is on its second re print, showing how popular the book is.
Says Dr Dharani: “I am working with several farming communities in East Africa including highland, midland , arid and semi-arid pastoralist and agro-pastoralist on medicinal, timber, fruits, forage and their importance and conservation in communities and schools.”
Dr Dharani says she enjoys working and visiting these pastoralists, as they are warm and welcoming.
So how did she end up with this passion for plants?
“I was born in the suburbs of Karachi, Pakistan, to a peasant family. My father was a farmer and that is how I came to love plants. I loved the farm life and that’s why I joined the University of Karachi in Pakistan for my first degree in Botany. I graduated with honours in 1986,” says Dr Dharani who did her masters degree at the same institution.
In 1991, the don married the love of her life — Firoz Dharani, a Kenyan — whom she had met in Pakistan.
She later relocated to Kenya and immediately fell in love with the land.
“Back in Pakistan, nobody had ever been to Africa except for my brother who had come on a fact-finding mission about my husband’s roots and his family in Kenya. So when I came, I fell in love with Kenya,” she says.
Dr Dharani says she was so amazed at the natural environment and with her degree speciality, she instantly made Kenya her second home.
“I was teaching Botany in Karachi but there we had little vegetation for research. When I came here my world opened up. It was like paradise. The flora and fauna was just amazing,” says Dr Dharani.