Mention the name Ocimum kilimandscharicum, and many people will not know what it is.
But for Muliru Farmers Conservation Group in Kakamega County, this strange shrub, commonly known as monyi in the local language, is a source of livelihood. The herb is found in the Kakamega tropical rain forest.
The group crushes the leaves of the shrub to extract oil that they say can treat body rashes, manage pimples, clear congested chests, treat snake bites among others.
Group chairperson Martha Khalawa sheds more light on their unique farming project: “The idea of domesticating wild shrubs initially looked weird and remote, but after being trained, we embraced the rare economic venture.”
They were trained by the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (Icipe), Bio Vision and MacArthur Foundation.
Muliru Farmers Conservation Group was founded about a decade ago to help in conservation of the Kakamega tropical rain forest.
Towards that end, communities living around the forest were given the green light to cultivate the shrub, following successful feasibility studies conducted by Icipe. The United Nations Development Programme donated a hydro-distillation machine used by the group in extracting oils from the plant.
The group is strategically located on the periphery of the forest at Secheno village in Shinyalu Sub-county, where it has contracted some farmers to cultivate and supply the shrub. The farmers are paid Sh10 per kilo of Ocimum kilimandscharicum leaves delivered.
The collected leaves are dried on special raised beds in a room to avoid losing oils. The oil products manufactured by the group go by the brand name Naturub products. Kenya Bureau of Standards has approved the products which are sold locally, although the group is eyeing markets beyond East Africa.
The group comprises 22 members and an extra five employees who assist in the process of drying the leaves, distillation and extraction of the oils.
The members, mainly widows, say the venture is more lucrative than sugar cane farming because the production cost is low and the plants are disease-tolerant.
“Climatic conditions around here are friendly to the shrub,” says Gladys Indeche, a member of the group.
The group has bought one-and-a-half-acre piece of land on which their mini-processing plant and offices are located.
“We raised Sh160,000 which was enough to secure the property,” Ms Indeche says.
Another member Smith Ligare says: “The enterprise gives us money enough to cater for our children’s school fees and daily needs. We no longer have to destroy the forest through charcoal burning, logging and poaching.”
Contracted farmers are given seeds by the group, which monitors every stage of the plants until they are ready for harvesting. Experts say the shrub can be harvested for over five years without replacement. Currently, they have at least 21 acres under the crop.
“It takes two months before the seedlings can be transferred to the seedbed and another four months for the plant to be ready for harvesting which is done after every three months. Pruning is key as it prompts sprouting of new leaves,” Indeche says.