Kariuki Peris Mweru
Doctoral Thesis, University of Nairobi
Indigenous knowledge on wild plants in drylands is utilized by local communities in support of their livelihoods. Unsustainable use of wild plant resources and resultant loss of biodiversity and associated indigenous knowledge has been stated as the greatest threat to biodiversity conservation. This threat is attributed to habitat conversion/degradation and trade that have linked local systems with the global fraternity. This study was carried out to document indigenous knowledge, use and conservation of wild medicinal food plants in Loita Narok County, Kenya. The specific objectives were; i) document indigenous wild plant conservation practices ii) document wild medicinal food plants used by the Loita Maasai iii) assess density and population structure of selected wild medicinal food plants iv) characterize trade in wild medicinal food plants and v) propose future sustainability scenarios for wild medicinal food plant species. The study used a mixed methods research design. Open ended questionnaires were used to document wild medicinal plants and to characterize trade in medicinal food plants in Narok; for density and population structure of selected species, 40 plots nested in eight transects were used; while Landsat images were used to analyze land cover/use changes between the years 1990 and 2010. The data collected was triangulated with key informants interviews, focus group discussions and herbarium specimen data. Quantitative data collected was analyzed and presented using Microsoft excel spreadsheet while thematic and content analysis was used to analyze qualitative data. Thematic land cover ENVI5.0 was used for image classification and thematic change detection. In this study 202 plant species occurring in 141 genera and 66 families were documented as wild medicinal food plants in Loita. Indigenous knowledge on use of these species was passed on within this community through apprenticeship and traditional learning structures of the society (e.g. traditional ceremonies). Wild medicinal food plants were collected from habitats ranging from forest, grassland to bushland. There was differential use of wild medicinal food plants (WMFPs) in Loita depending on age and gender of plant users. Experts such as traditional health practitioners and herders xvi were more knowledgeable about fodder plants. Overall Rhus natalensis had the highest density 64.5. Two species had unique distributions- Acacia nilotica only found outside the forest while Toddalia asiatica was encountered within the forest. The population structure of selected wild medicinal food plant species had reverse J type curves suggesting healthy regeneration however, the species M. africana, Osyris lanceolata were rarely encountered. At least 106 species, mostly trees and shrubs of wild medicinal food plants, were found on sale in the markets. Myrsine africana was scarce and Osyris lanceolata was illegally harvested in Loita and exported through Tanzania. The supply chain in medicinal food plants was short with one or two nodes harvester and retailer (trader). Between 1990 and 2010 the area under forest had decreased by 19.12%. Conversion of indigenous vegetation to farmland contributed more to loss of wild plants than household use and trade. The species Zanthoxylum usambarense, Toddaliia asiatica, M. africana and O. lanceolata are threatened by household use and overharvesting for trade. Urgent intervention is required for O. lanceolata which as the remaining population maybe depleted. Sustainable use of wild plants species and traditional lifestyle of Loita community has contributed to conservation of biodiversity in this landscape. With modernity, increased demand and changing livelihoods there is a decreasing trend of wild plant species. Indigenous land resource management strategies should be strengthened to develop people’s values and positive attitude towards biodiversity conservation. There is need for integration of scientific and indigenous knowledge in use and conservation of plant biodiversity in adaptive management.
"The Loita Maasai have classified their landscape into several cultural zones (Table 4.1). Each had culturally differentiated uses and this has supported conservation of large tracks of indigenous vegetation within the division. A traditional way of preservation/conservation was having cultural sites. Some areas/sites were sacred and were only used for cultural activities. An example is Loita forest sacred site encompassing several shrines such as Oltukai, Oloitoktok, Oltiyani and Emugurrolkine.
"The Loita Maasai had sacred/cultural species it was taboo to cut such as Oretiti (Ficus thoningii) and the sacred species Oltiyani (Arundinaria alpina). It was believed that felling it would result in drought. The highest point in Loita forest is a sacred site named by this species Oltiyani (A. alpina).
Arundinaria alpina is also known as Yushania alpina and is a native bamboo of Africa. Yushania is a genus of the bamboo sub-tribe Arundinarieae.