Guard Okello graduated from the University of Nairobi in 1967. He didn’t plan to be a farmer. But ten years ago, Mr. Okello made a life-changing decision.
Mr. Okello lives in the Junior Quarters neighbourhood of Lira, a town 340 kilometres north of Uganda’s capital city, Kampala. The 78-year-old says, “I was inspired by my late mother, who was a herbalist. She was helping many people to get relief from various ailments using medicinal plant extracts.”
He realized that growing medicinal plants would earn him a greater income. So Mr. Okello quit his job as an industrial designer and started a medicinal garden of his own.
Mr. Okello appreciates the importance of protecting indigenous plants. He says, “Our forefathers have lived with medicinal plants for generations, but these plants are now facing extinction.” Scientists believe that many plants have medicinal value and can be used to treat a number of ailments.
Mr. Okello used his mother’s experience and knowledge to do research on local plants with medicinal value. He says, “I use … Madagascar beans for treatment of erectile dysfunction, [and] pawpaw for treatment of urinary ailments and rheumatism. I also use the juice of Aloe vera for treating burns and inflammation.”
Emmanuel Oceng has benefited from treatment with medicinal plants. The 70-year-old says, “I had problems with my vision, but after taking guavas my eye vision improved and I can now see well.”
Mr. Okello’s customers are not only local; some come from Kenya and Tanzania. He says, “They usually come to my home or my office in Lira for consultations and to buy the extracts.”
Mr. Okello used his earnings from selling herbal treatments to buy land. The father of four explains, “During the peak of the sales, I earned 300,000 Uganda shillings per day [US$86]. I now use the land I purchased to grow medicinal plants.”
Since he started his business, Mr. Okello has made a decent income. But the increasing availability of pharmaceutical medicines is affecting the popularity of herbal treatments. Many people in his area are no longer willing to use plant extracts as medicine.
Fredrick Ssekyana is the Public Relations Officer for the National Drug Authority in Uganda. He says Mr. Okello and other medicinal plant growers should work with the National Drug Authority to develop their products. He says, “We want to work with herbalists. Their products can be exported to international markets to make a better income.”
Mr. Okello says: “There is a lack of awareness about the goodness of herbal medicine. These herbs are effective, affordable and can be easily found.”