Nairobi, September 16 (IPS) – Hannah Sakamo is concerned. She is about to lose another goat in less than a month. A shepherd in the village of Eldepe, Marigat Sub-County, Baringo County in Kenya’s Rift Valley region, the lifeblood of her household is at stake.
The goat in question, whose days are now numbered, has eaten pods, or the fruits of the invasive species, Prosopis julifloralocally known as math.
Mathenge is a small, prolific seed, fast growing, drought resistant, evergreen tree of tropical American origin that produces masses of pods containing small tough smooth seeds. It is considered by far to be one of the world’s worst invasive plant species.
“You can tell when a goat is on its deathbed just by looking at its mouth. The goat cannot close its mouth, eat or drink water because the mouth vibrates and slides from side to side when the goat tries to eat. Every day in six surrounding villages, at least seven goats die from eating these pods,” Sakamo tells IPS.
The invasive species has increasingly invaded Kenya’s semi-arid and arid ecosystems and has had a significant impact on biological diversity and rural livelihoods.
Fredrick Chege, an independent researcher on invasive wild species, says that of all livestock, goats and cattle are the most vulnerable. He tells IPS that consumption of pods can cause neurotoxic damage to the central nervous system, especially in cattle and goats.
“Whenever the infested goat tries to chew the cud following the herbivore digestive process, you will see him vomit a green liquid and the mouth twitches uncontrollably. Digestion cannot therefore be completed,” he explains.
Once these symptoms become apparent, the goat will starve to death within days. Shepherds do not consume meat from an animal that is starving or sick, even during a drought. It is considered taboo.
Fish from Baringo County, he says, are not spared “fishermen at Lake Baringo, and Bogoria in the Rif Valley have become accustomed to catching deformed fish. Fish without eyes because the thorns from the Prosopis juliflora species have invaded the lakes and are poking out their eyes.”
According to research by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) Prosopis juliflora is one of many invasive species in this East African nation. Research shows that there are at least 34 species; 11 arthropods, 10 microorganisms, four vertebrates and nine plant species, including: Prosopis juliflora.
“Mathenge is extremely difficult to control as it thrives in most soils such as rocky, sandy, poor and saline soils. It has very deep roots that can reach the underground water. It is impossible to coexist with other vegetation because it absorbs significant amounts of water,” explains Chege.
“Even if you cut Prosopis trees above the ground, they regenerate very quickly and form thorny thickets that are almost impossible to penetrate, especially along watercourses, roadsides, floodplains and generally on areas that are uninhabited or dormant land .”
Prosopis Juliflora was originally introduced to the arid regions of Kenya as a solution to deforestation and to provide firewood. Before long, the solution became a problem that has now spiraled out of control with the displacement of native plants and endangering pastoral economies.
Once the species has taken root, Chege says it is very difficult, laborious and expensive to remove successfully due to soil seed bank regeneration and the regeneration of trees from cut stems.
Prosopis juliflora seeds also pass easily through the gut of livestock and are deposited in the soil from where they thrive within a short period of time. Likewise, children enjoy eating pods because they are sugary and sweet and they also put these seeds in the ground because they chew the pods and spit out the seeds.
Show government data Prosopis juliflora spreads at a rate of between 4% and 15% per year. Sakamo indicates that the average cost of clearing a three to four year old Prosopis shrub on a 10×10 lot is somewhere between $10 and $30. An expensive undertaking because the invasive species can start germinating again within four weeks.
Research shows the species is so prolific that since the first herbarium specimen – a collection of preserved plant specimens maintained for scientific purposes – was collected in 1977 in the coastal region of Kenya, Prosopis juliflora can now be found – in varying degrees of invasion – in seven of the eight regions in this East African country.
Prosopis juliflora was declared a noxious weed in Kenya in 2008 under the Suppression of Noxious Weeds Act (CAP 325), meaning it is considered harmful to the environment or to animals.
Under this law, Chege says, the Secretary of Agriculture can force landowners to remove all declared noxious weeds, such as Prosopis juliflora from their land or otherwise have them removed.
Elvis Kipkoech, a charcoal merchant, says the government has banned the use of Prosopis juliflora for charcoal production as a means of controlling it through use.
This method, he tells IPS, has not worked because unscrupulous charcoal producers are mixing the invasive species with other tree species, leading to the government banning charcoal production in Kenya altogether.
Against a background of challenges to control this invasive enemy, a solution is in sight in the form of the National Strategy and Action Plan for the Management of Prosopis Juliflora in Kenya.
The strategy is aimed at effectively controlling the invasive species through a combination of biological, chemical, mechanization and utilization methods, as Prosopis can be used not only in burning charcoal but also to produce piles for making furniture and fences.
Meanwhile, Sakamo watches helplessly as the negative effects of infamous math suck the life out of her beloved goat; she urges the government to speed up access to these solutions and hopes this will be its last loss.
Report of the IPS UN Office
Follow IPS News UN Bureau on Instagram
© Inter Press Service (2022) — All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service