Written by Caroline Kibii
Marigat town and its environs are among the few regions in Kenya whose narrative changed when it emerged that an invasive weed had been introduced.
A weed that hinders cultivation, resistant to drought, sprouts almost immediately after uprooting and poisonous. Prosopis Juliflora!
Initially, the weed was a source of contention, attracting legal battles. Residents claimed their goats were losing their teeth. They argued the thorns were poisonous and could render human arms and legs to be amputated.
The residents still hold the same account. The pressure and tension have, however, eased.
Research shows that Prosopis Juliflora hinders other plants’ growth, facilitates soil erosion, sprouts so fast, and spreads quickly.
The people of Marigat made peace with the weed and made good use of it. They embrace it in various ways.
Wind and Dust
Dorcas and Grace, residents of Marigat, surprisingly shared the same view on Prosopis Juliflora; they opined the weed subdues dust that destabilizes the people’s peace and everyday operations. Before the weed was introduced, they said Marigat was dry and bare; hardly any trees apart from a few dry acacias.
The weed, which was once condemned, has brought sanity—little dust. Besides, the trees break the wind.
Marigat is a dry area that many plants cannot survive during the dry season. The residents we spoke to attribute the greenness to Prosopis. The weed has created a sense of nature around them. What used to be bare now has colour.
“To be honest, this place was a desert. You could not see anything green during dry seasons. The dust was a nightmare. Right now you can smile because you can see it is green everywhere,” Dorcas Said
Charcoal burning is an activity considered a vice in the language of environmental conservation. It causes deforestation, generates smoke, which contains carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
The people of Marigat found an opportunity to venture into burning charcoal using Prosopis juliflora trees.
They assume that charcoal is one of the easiest ways of eradicating the weed from their farms with the claim that it will reestablish within a matter of months.
However, it is argued that it creates a bad culture of people going beyond using the weed to using acacia trees for charcoal production. The basis is that charcoal from Prosopis is light and does not burn for a longer time compared to the acacia and other trees.
An area that once had no trees for shade and hot throughout the year is thankful for a plant that once plagued their comfort. It is a source of shade to livestock and traders.
Despite the legal battles surrounding the loss of goat-teeth caused by the Prosopis Juliflora, animals still feed on it. It is a fundamental source of fodder during dry seasons.
Grace told us the seeds of the weed were, at one point, a precious commodity retailing at a ‘good’ price. They claim in many occasions during drought; they supplied the seeds to drier areas of the county such as Sibilo and Nginyang.
Many people will acknowledge the weed has been used widely for fencing.
While the locals appreciate the positive side of the weed, it remains dangerous to both humans and animals.
On the downside prosopis juliflora is
Hinders growth of other plants. Agricultural production is impossible in lands with the weed.
Because no other vegetation, including grasses, can flourish where the weed has established, the land is left bear, susceptible to wind and water erosion.
Degrades the teeth of goats and sheep
Poisonous- the thorns are poisonous to humans. In worse case scenarios, it can lead to amputation of the legs.
Eradication is a challenge. Once you uproot it, you must till the land immediately; otherwise, the weed will reestablish.
Power Generation using Prosopis
Cummins, a power generating company, had a promising strategy to turn Prosopis juliflora into a more useful product.
The company had started generating power using the twigs of the weed. Its capacity during the short period of operation was 11KW. It was already connected to the main grid.
According to a worker at the station, the operation had to stop due to many reasons, including limited research on the weed. He says they later realized Prosopis Juliflora is hard-wood contrary to the initial thought. The machinery was destroyed.
As per the source, plans to revive operation are underway with the incorporation of new technology.
Conclusion and suggestions
Prosopis Juliflora is a weed that might not be eradicated entirely.
If it is profitable to the community and the government to generate power from the weed, then, more research should be done to establish viable ways and machinery to use
More research to be conducted to establish other useful ways of the weed.