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Efforts to control deadly weed hurt by ban on logging

By Caroline Chebet | Dec 17th 2018 | 4 min read
Goats feed on mathenge weed, scientifically known as prosopis juliflora, on a farm in Marigat, in Baringo County. [File, Standard]

Residents of Marigat sub-county have called on the Government to lift the ban on logging to enable them control spread of noxious weed christened mathenge.

The fast-spreading weed, scientifically known as prosopis juliflora, is considered invasive and harmful.

The weed forms impenetrable thickets that choke other plants and grass, leaving the ground bare and prone to erosion. It also erodes teeth of livestock.

The bush was introduced in Kenya in the late 1960s to stop desertification. But it soon became a nightmare for residents of drylands, who said it was poisonous and hazardous to their livestock. 

In July 2006, a toothless goat was presented as an exhibit in the High Court in Nairobi. It was described as a victim of a plant ‘gone berserk’.

And yesterday, residents said they want the ban imposed by the Ministry of Environment lifted so they are able to cut down the weed and control its spread.

They said mathenge has colonised vast grazing fields and farmlands yet they cannot do anything about it because of the ban on logging.

Environment CS Keriako Tobiko banned logging in public forests in February this year before extending the moratorium, for one year, from November 24.

The decision was taken to save the country forest cover. There had been a public outcry over illegal logging that was was blamed for the diminishing water levels in the country’s key rivers.

Apart from Baringo, Turkana, Garrissa, Tana River, Lamu, Taita Taveta counties have been affected by the weed.

Dickson Lekakisio, a farmer at Murda Irrigation Scheme, at his farm that is almost covered by the weed. [File, Standard].

“We are asking the Government to lift the ban on logging so we can cut down the weed that is spreading fast and causing a lot of harm. Cutting down the deedly weed is the only effective way to control it or get rid of it altogether,” said a resident, Dickson Lekesio.

In Marigat alone, the weed is said to have invaded about 10,000 hectares of land.

“The weed is spreading fast yet we cannot do anything about it because cutting it down would be illegal. The weed is chocking the rivers, grazing fields and farms yet the Government has not come up with a mechanism to control the weed,” Mr Lekesio said.

The weed is said to be among the top 100 most invasive species globally in arid and semi-arid areas in Africa, South America and Australia among other countries.

The plant has had devastating effects on the areas where it grows as it has also blocked roads, irrigation canals and in some cases, diverted rivers.

“It has also resulted in the death of livestock after eating its pods and occasional tooth decay resulting from high sugar content. A number of residents too are suffering from wounds and scars after being pricked by its thorns. In some of the worst cases, a number of residents have been amputated,” another resident, Hassan Omari, said.

He added: “Lifting the ban is the only way to control this deadly weed and we need to do it now before it causes more harm.”

Baringo County Kefri director Simon Choge said the best method to control the weed was by cutting them down and using them to burn charcoal.

He said the weed can also be utilised by grinding its seeds to produce flour and cattle feeds.

“The weed has been spreading at a high rate in several counties. The major problem has been controlling it. Even worse is lack of skills to utilise the plant,” Mr Choge said.

He said his organisation is in talks with the Ministry of Environment to have the ban lifted.

“A task force will be formed to look into possibilities of lifting the logging ban, specifically to allow burning of charcoal using the weed as one of the ways to control its spread. A few counties will be chosen by the Ministry to pilot the project before other counties with a similar challenge follow suit,” Choge  said.

The ministry has also acknowledged how the plant has colonised grazing fields, farmlands and affected rivers.

In a statement, the ministry noted that some of the important wetlands have already been invaded including River Tana Delta, Lorian Swamp and Lengurruahanga Swamp in Kajiado County.

“The potential ecological disaster caused by the weed’s invasion on the wetlands is demonstrated by the near impossible complete eradication of the species once established,” the statement said. 

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