Nelly Bassily | May 11, 2009
For generations, people searching for a hangover cure or a boost of energy have headed for the Kakamega forest in western Kenya. They have searched for a plant with creamy yellow buds, bright red petals, and a root that can lift your spirits. But until recently, it was becoming harder to find.The Kakamega forest is one of few places in Kenya where Mondia whytei grows. Locals collect and sell mondia roots from the forest. Over time, the popular revitalizer became endangered from over-harvesting.
The fate of mondia and local communities changed a few years ago, when farmers started cultivating the plant in their fields.
James Ligare administers the Mondia Community Enterprise. The project started with 30 farmers domesticating the mondia plant. Now the plant is grown by many farmers in communities surrounding the Kakamega forest. Mondia roots are processed at a local factory and packaged for sale.
The enterprise has been profitable for farmers. Mr. Ligare says that most farmers earn more from mondia than from crops such as tea or maize. With higher incomes, farmers are renovating their homes. Some are seeking computer and business management skills in efforts to improve production.
A steady cash flow for locals lessens their dependence on the forest. They no longer have to venture into the forest for mondia. They also have less need to collect firewood or building materials from the forest for sale.
Wilber Lwande heads the program that supports mondia cultivation near Kakamega forest. He says the effort is a model for forest conservation and biodiversity protection.