ERADICATION DIFFICULT

Monster mathenge weed declared national disaster

Invasive weed overtakes cropland and pasture, injures animals

In Summary

• Environment CS says plant has caused massive destruction in 20 counties. It threatens national security, health, livelihoods

• Some plant experts say it should be controlled and used for its nutritious value and honey in its flowers.

Farmers in Sandai, Baringo South, slashing Mathenge weed from their farms on Monday Monday, June 20.
CUTTING MATHENGNE: Farmers in Sandai, Baringo South, slashing Mathenge weed from their farms on Monday Monday, June 20.
Image: JOSEPH KANGOGO

The government has declared the invasive noxious mathenge weed a national disaster because it takes over cropland and pasture and injures animals.

It also blocks rivers.

What was once a conservation tool has been declared a national disaster.

It all started with good intentions. In the 1980s the government introduced fast-growing, hardy mathenge weed to end desertification and soil erosion. It has done that and more.

Mathenge has become a monster

Today the thorny hardy weed — actually a bush or tree — is taking over vast areas of 20 counties, making land unproductive. 

Nooseiya group members grind prosopolis pods and mix them with grass for animal feed.
NUTRITIOUS: Nooseiya group members grind prosopolis pods and mix them with grass for animal feed.
Image: JOSEPH KANGOGO

A moratorium on cutting all prosopis and other trees will be lifted in two weeks after local residents sign agreements and register land owning groups and charcoal producing associations. Only mathenge, not valuable trees, are allowed to be cut and burned.

Environment CS Keriako Tobiko said the plant has covered large areas in 20 arid and semi-arid counties of Kenya.

“So far, one million acres of land have been colonised by prosopis, which is spreading at the rate of 15 per cent per year," Tobiko said.

"It is a threat to national security, health and livelihoods."

He said the government is forming a strategic plan to eliminate the plant that is a leading environmental and economic hazard," the CS said.

The worst-hit counties include Tana River, Turkana, Baringo, Taita Taveta, Malindi, Samburu, Isiolo, Mandera, Marsabit, Wajir, Kajiado and Migori.

Tobiko made the remarks at World Desertification and Drought Day observances at Eldume Primary School in Baringo South on Saturday.

He was accompanied by Environment PS Secretary Chris Kiptoo and his counterpart in the State Department of Arid Lands Micah Powon.

Present also were Baringo county commissioner Abdirizak Jaldesa, Governor Stanley Kiptis and Baringo South MP Charles Kamuren.

Mathenge has been criticised by pastoralists and farmers for causing suffering and hunger, taking over land, crushing animals' teeth and blocking seasonal rivers, causing floods.

Animals eat the sugary pods. 

Farmers at Sintaan in Baringo South survey their farms taken over by mathenge weed, declared a national disaster.
MATHENGE FOREST: Farmers at Sintaan in Baringo South survey their farms taken over by mathenge weed, declared a national disaster.
Image: JOSEPH KANGOGO

Kamuren thanked the government for promising to lift the ban soon, saying the weed has invaded farmland especially in his constituency.

“As affected communities, we were almost shouting out and planned to sue the government to compensate the people whose farms were wasted by the useless weed” Kamuren said

"We support cutting the weed and burning charcoal,” he said.

It is difficult to uproot.

The CS, however, called upon all the communities to follow the strategic plan and regulations, sign them and forward them in two weeks.

“President Uhuru Kenyatta waits for the people’s endorsement before announcing lifting the ban," Tobiko said

He urged the county governments in the affected regions to move fast and help the residents register Local Charcoal Producers Association (LCPA) groups and the Land Owners Associations (LOA).

“Village elders shall then be charged with the responsibility of ensuring no other trees apart from ‘prosopis’ are cut for charcoal burning,” he said.

He appealed to residents to plant other trees and grow food crops whenever they cut down mathenge weed, “because our water catchment points and flowing rivers still require vegetation cover,” he said.

He encouraged residents to apply modern charcoal burning techniques to ensure quality and faster ways of producing charcoal.

NUTRITIOUS

However, pasture expert Francis Parkolwa from Ilchamus ward said despite being destructive, the plant has assisted a in environmental conservation and controlling soil erosion.

“As a pasture expert, I can also confirm the animal feeds and human food produced from prosopis products [such as ground pods] are highly nutritious” he said.

Parkolwa, who is a member of Nooseiya community-based organisation, also said the sweet nectar from prosopis flowers produces natural honey.

“But I can only encourage our people to plant grass where they cut prosopis” to prevent erosionhe said.

Currently the UN and NGOs such as the United Development Progamme, the Small Grant Programme and Global Environmental Facility (GEF) are educating residents in alternative uses of prosopis.

Controlling it, using it and not destroying everything must be considered, Parkolwa said.

(Edited by V. Graham)

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