Prosopis juliflora: From Pest to Power

Prosopis: the foreign foe of Africa

  Global spread of different Prosopis juliflora species   Pasiecznik et al, 2001

Global spread of different Prosopis juliflora species

Pasiecznik et al, 2001

Our charcoal is made exclusively from the Prosopis juliflora plant. Prosopis is not native to Africa, but is typically found in Mexico, South America and the Caribbean. However, concerns over fuel wood shortages in the 1980s prompted the introduction of a fast growing tree; Prosopis. Able to grow in a variety of soil conditions, Prosopis proved very hardy and thrived across sub-Saharan Africa countries, including Kenya. 

Unfortunately, communities have suffered from its presence as it has not been harvested as previously intended for fuel wood use. Prosopis has created a number of problems for local communities and is even classified as one of the top 100 invasive species by the Invasive Species Specialist Group of the IUCN. 

Prosopis problems

As a fast growing and resilient species, Prosopis has overtaken large areas of land, which has proved most problematic for farmers, whose agricultural land has been impeded by Prosopis growth. The tree also produces sharp spikes and grows to form impenetrable thickets. In Kenya, there have been incidences of cattle rustling, where thieves take advantage of Prosopis by hiding in the thickets. The thickets also cause further ecological problems as they restrict the growth of other vegetation, due to the trees' high demand for water and soil nutrients detracting from other plants. 

Enquiries into the status of Prosopis have revealed it has increased in density over the past 5-10 years, as residents and communities have struggled to control its spread. In some cases, communities have even been displaced by such prolific Prosopis growth, creating conflict between neighbouring communities. Excessive Prosopis growth has also encroached on livestock grazing lands, creating numerous issues for farmers trying to feed their livestock. The pods of the Prosopis tree when not processed, expose grazing livestock to the high sugary content of the pods, causing tooth decay and gum disease, and even death. The declining health of livestock is another reason communities, especially farmers have such a negative perception of Prosopis. 

Benefits of Prosopis

Prosopis is a resilient tree which can grow and reforest arid lands, making it suitable for supplying large dry regions with a viable, long term wood source. The typical uses of Prosopis include production of wood products, construction and fencing poles, fuelwood, charcoal and honey. In India, Prosopis is perceived as a valuable economic asset in desert arid regions where it provides extensive vegetative cover. Local communities collect honey and use the wood for charcoal production, which has generated substantial demand for labour, and income streams for these communities. Women in particular have benefitted as they have been able to generate consistent income from selling charcoal and fuel wood. 

The pods of the Prosopis tree contain high levels of sugar and protein. When properly processed these can produce highly nutritious animal feed for livestock. In Mexico, Argentina and Brazil, Prosopis pods are used in livestock feed. Startle is currently piloting the production of animal feeds made from the Prosopis pods in Kenya. 

Tinder Eco Fuels - Pest to Power

  Prosopis invasion, Baringo county, Kenya   Source: Choge et al, 2002

Prosopis invasion, Baringo county, Kenya

Source: Choge et al, 2002

Women, as the main collectors of Prosopis wood for their own fuel wood purposes, are well positioned to benefit the most by working with Tinder Eco Fuels (which operates in Marigat, next to one of the most highly invaded areas of Kenya in Baringo county.) The employment to collect Prosopis wood generates an income stream for these women which would otherwise not have existed. As Prosopis is an evergreen tree, employment is not seasonal, so communities harvesting Prosopis can generate an income all year round. Farming and livestock are the main source of income for many communities. Generating an alternative income stream on a regular basis provides these families with greater security and the capacity to generate savings. Prosopis also coppices (regrows once cut down unless uprooted) making it a viable long term renewable resource.

Whilst there are disadvantages to Prosopis, which unfortunately materialise if the spread is not properly managed, the advantages can bring about significant environmental and social benefits. The Kenyan government supports the commercial utilisation of Prosopis, which should allow for significant economic benefits, and communities perception of Prosopis to shift from pest to a positive, powerful income generating resource. 


References

Choge, S.K., F.D. Ngunjiri, M.N. Kuria, E.A. Busaka, and J.K. Muthondeki. 2002. The status and impact of Prosopis spp in Kenya. Unpublished report, Kenya Forestry Research Institute and Forest Department.

Esther Mwangi & Brent Swallow, June 2005, Invasion of Prosopis juliflora and local livelihoods: Case study from the lake Baringo area of Kenya. ICRAF Working Paper – no. 3. Nairobi: World Agroforestry Centre

Pasiecznik, Nick, Peter Felker, P.J.C., Harris, L.N. Harsh, G. Cruz, J.C., Tewari, K. Cadoret and L.J. Maldonado. 2001. The Prosopis juliflora-Prosopis pallida complex: A monograph. HDRA, Coventy, UK.

 
Lily Steele