Frankincense and myrrh have new economic resonance for women in Kenya’s arid north


Women display sorted gums and resins at a local market in Marsabit County. The women have benefited economically by harvesting and selling non-wood products. Credit: Robert Kibet/IPS
  • by Robert Kibet (nairobi
  • Inter Press Service

Shoulder to shoulder, they walk up the hill armed with relevant tools to tap gum and gum resin from acacia trees.

“We face numerous challenges. Before we can harvest chewing gum from acacia trees, we have to fetch water. We then sort and dry it before putting it on the market for sale. By selling gums and resins, I can meet the needs of my family. There is no need to sell my sheep and goats for a throwaway price,” said Caroline Sepina, a 47-year-old mother of six, as she carefully sorts the chewing gum, which costs $5 (Ksh 550) per kilogram.

Gums and resins are hardened plant exudates obtained from Acacia, Boswellia and Commiphora species in African arid regions.

In the arid regions of Kenya, human survival is constantly faced with multiple challenges with minimal alternative livelihood options.

There are no men in the Manyattas in Ndikir, a village in Marsabit sub-province. Due to the drought, men had to move to nearby Samburu province in search of pasture and water for their livestock.

This is where the women are left behind, but unlike in the past when they were unemployed, they now have alternative livelihoods that complement their livestock.

According to Leuwan Kokton, assistant chief of the Ndikir sub-location, men usually migrate with livestock to nearby Samburu province to avoid severe drought, with a few animals left to provide for the children’s upkeep and sometimes medicines.

“This economic venture means I don’t have to sell sheep from my herds to meet my household needs. All I have to do is walk to the nearby trees and tap the non-wood products and then sell them in the market. This helps me to conserve my sheep and goats,” said Joseph Longelesh, a resident of Ndikir village, in an interview with IPS.

The gums and gum resins of commercial importance collected from the forests in Kenya include arabic, myrrh, hagar and frankincense. Kenya has sources of gums and resins and commercial production is limited to the arid regions of the country. Gum arabic comes from Acacia senegal or Acacia seyal, while commercial gum resins are myrrh from Commiphoramyrrha, Hagar from Commiphora holtziana, and Frankincense from Boswellia negatra S.

Traditionally, Myrrh Hagar’s resin has been suitable for the treatment of inflammation, arthritis, obesity, microbial infection, wounds, pain, fractures, tumors, gastrointestinal diseases, snake bites and scorpion stings.

Tommaso Menini, the director of the African Agency for Arid Resource (AGAR), told IPS that chewing gum and resin are directly linked to environmental conservation. The idea is to show the pastoral communities an alternative source of livelihood aside from livestock.

“Hagar is now an incredibly sought-after product from mainly Chinese buyers as it is widely used in their traditional medicine. With a Chinese population of nearly 1.4 billion, the demand is high,” Menini told IPS.

“In recent years we have seen an increasing presence of Chinese buyers setting up bases in Kenya. We used to have agents sending multiple containers to China, but since settling in Kenya, they are now driving up prices as demand increases. is.”

For Janet Ahatho, assistant director of natural resources at Marsabit County, these non-wood products exist. Yet the local population was not exposed to the economic potential and how to exploit it for monetary gain.

“As a provincial government, we mapped out the areas and collaborated with the local population. The people who collect and sell the products are the shepherds themselves. They place great value on these trees and thus help to preserve the environment,” says Ahatho.

In Marsabit Province, these non-wood products are commonly found in Laisamis, Moyale and North Horr sub-counties.

“Environmental destruction is reduced because we have environmental management committees in every sub-province, and they are the ones who engage the collectors and the sellers of the product. They are trained to teach the community why it is important to conserve the tree species,” Ahatho says.

In 2005, the Regional Center for Mapping Resources for Development, through the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Technical Cooperation Program, conducted a resource assessment and introduced gums and resins to Kenya Map.

For Ilkul Salgi, the field officer for the World Vision’s Integrated Management of Natural Resources for Resilience in Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (IMARA), the locals living in arid provinces, including Marsabit, usually face drought, conflict and how they the environment during the climate crisis.

Engineer Chidume Okoro, president of the Network for Natural Gums and Resin in Africa (NGARA), says production is far from sustainable, especially for frankincense, where debarking trees often harms or kills.

According to Chidume, the production of chewing gum and resin in large quantities for commercial purposes needs to be done with great care, teaching the local population how to do this sustainably while saving the acacia trees.

“With a lot of focus on exporting bulk commodities and poor resource management, export markets are underutilized. Gender and power inequalities exist and in some cases have led to unequal access to and control over the benefits of these natural resources,” Okoro told IPS.

Since researching the non-wood products, Sepina says her children have always had balanced meals and she can afford her children’s school fees.

Report of the IPS UN Office

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© Inter Press Service (2022) — All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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