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Saving 'Mukombero' herb


Milton Ongaya hawks stems of white ginger commonly known as ''Mukombero'' along Kenyatta Road in Nyeri Town, its popular among his customer due to it medicinal value. Ongaya sources his commodity from Kakamega County. [Kibata Kihu, Standard]

Researchers from various universities have embarked on an ambitious plan to save the Mukombero (Mondia Whitei) herb from extinction.

In Western Kenya, the herb is regarded as an aphrodisiac and medicinal.

The plant uniquely grows in forests, but issues such as climate change, human activities, and poor harvesting methods have been cited by researchers and conservators as major contributors to the extinction of Mukombero.

The researchers have resorted to planting at least 6,000 indigenous tree seedlings every week and an equal number of climbing plants, including the Mukombero herb.

Experts from Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology (MMUST), led by Acting Vice-Chancellor Prof Josephine Ngaira and Fredrick Ashiona, emphasised that Mukombero thrives in Kakamega Forest and other forests. However, human activities like cutting down indigenous trees and premature harvesting are leading to the plant’s decline.

Western Regional Forest Conservator from Kenya Forest Services, Fredrick Ashiona, concurred during a planting exercise at Kakamega Forest. 


Researchers from Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology (MMUST) led by Acting Vice-Chancellor Professor Josephine Ngaira and Fredrick Ashiona, Western Regional Forest Conservator from Kenya Forest Services during planting exercise at Kakamega Forest in bid to save Mukombero herb known as Mondia Whitei due to climate Change. [Benard Lusigi, Standard]

“In Kakamega forest, we had one of the climbing plants known as Mukombero, and this plant thrives when we have indigenous trees. But because of human activities and climate change, there has been an acute shortage of the herb. To revive the plant, we have to rehabilitate the forest by planting indigenous trees,” said Ngaira.

“When we plant indigenous trees, they will revive Mukombero and other climbing plants, giving the herb its natural taste and allowing it to spread widely. Part of our plan is to plant 6,000 climbing plants every week to ensure we do not lose this special plant.”

Ashiona added that one of the major plans to save Mukombero is to restore and rehabilitate Kakamega Forest through collaboration with various universities led by Masinde Muliro University.

“Research has shown that Mukombero has medicinal value among other benefits. To save it from disappearing, we have to protect our natural forests by planting more indigenous trees, fencing Kakamega Forest with electrical fences, and ensuring social fencing, which includes giving people alternative sources of income and clean energy to avoid encroachment. This is provided under the Kenya Forest Conservator Management Act,” said Ashiona.

He mentioned that they are developing various Mukombero seeds and varieties to revive it.

“Mukombero is native and endemic to Kakamega Forest. We have projects to regenerate it through research by availing seeds, roots, and tubers so we can save it from extinction. It is a species known worldwide, and we are exploring sustainable ways of harvesting it,” said Ashiona.

A walk in the Kakamega tropical rainforest, where Mukombero was once abundant, confirms fears that the herb could be extinct.

The drying, uprooted stems of Mondia Whitei greet visitors to the forest. Human activities that could have led to Mukombero’s disappearance are evident.

Eight months ago, Western Kenya was hit by a shortage of Mukombero herb.

Residents consume the roots of this wonder vine for various health benefits, including treating persistent coughs, stomachaches, allergies, and flu, among others.

The herb is predominantly found in Kakamega, but it has been missing there and in major towns in Western Kenya, with some traders being compelled to import it from neighboring Uganda.

Simon Ondula, a Mukombero hawker in Kakamega town, said he has resorted to importing the product from Uganda due to the shortage in Kakamega Forest.


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