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West Kenya farmers seeks value addition on medicinal herbs

By Xinhua | May 16th 2016

The Kakamega forest in Western Kenya is a world class biodiversity hotspot that attracts hundreds of nature lovers keen to sample its ambience and beauty on any given day.

Adjacent to the vast forest that is home to rare plant species, a farmer's conservation group has pitched tent to engage in planting and processing of medicinal herbs for domestic and regional market.

The Muliru Farmers Conservation Group pioneered the establishment of a processing plant for a range of medicinal herbs grown on the periphery of Kakamega forest.

According to Benson Bouyia, the secretary of Muliro Farmers conservation group, value addition on medicinal herbs has gained traction in Western given its immense financial rewards.

"We have embarked on commercial production of African Blue Basil and other medicinal herbs that have for ages been used to treat flu, chest pains and infections arising from insect bites," Bouyia told Xinhua.

He added the processing plant established by his organization produces soaps and candles from herbal extracts.

Muliro farmers group is credited nationally for pioneering the manufacture of a herbal drug called Naturub that is used to treat a host of ailments.

"Since our establishment, we have been able to identify many local herbs that have both nutrition and medicinal value. We cultivate them on well tended seed beds and later harvest them for processing," said Bouyia.

He added that byproducts of the processed medicinal herbs are compressed into cakes that are a clean source of energy for cooking and lighting.

An estimated 300 small-scale farmers who live near Kakamega forest are involved in cultivation of medicinal herbs.

They supply large quantities of medicinal herbs for processing at the plant established by Muliro farmers' conservation group.

Bouyia told Xinhua local farmers supply 700 kilograms of leaves from African blue basil on a daily basis.

"We collect and store the medicinal herbs in a hygienic environment and protect them from direct sunlight to prevent them from wilting. After three days, the herbs are taken to the processing plant," said Sarafin Khandambi, a storekeeper with Muliro farmers conservation group.

He added processing of the medicinal herbs takes a shorter time span thanks to use of sophisticated distillation technology.

According to Bouyia, the organization's secretary, these herbal extracts are also sold to some chemist shops where they are condensed into tablets for treating infectious diseases.

"The three biggest supermarkets in Kenya have been our consistent clients while local communities also buy the herbal extracts in small quantities to treat ailments," Bouyia told Xinhua.

He disclosed that his organization that has been in existence for close to two decades has won global recognition for pioneering innovative projects to conserve rich biodiversity in Kakamega forest.

"We have secured grants from multilateral and bilateral donors to help expand our work of conserving rare plant species in Kakamega forest," said Bouyia adding that his organization has also ventured into beekeeping that has proved to be a profitable business.

Nairobi based International Centre for Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) has provided technical and financial support to Muliro farmers' conservation group to promote cultivation of medicinal herbs.

Wiber Lwande, head of bioprospecting at ICIPE said that cultivation of medicinal herbs has provided alternative source of livelihood to farmers in western Kenya while promoting conservation of Kakamega forest.

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