By Seliphar Musungu, Kakamega
Kakamega rainforest has been identified to play a big role in restoring indigenous trees in its ecosystem.
The restoration plays an important role in the existence of the vast beneficial biodiversity, including the growth of traditional herbs that cure diseases such as malaria and respiratory infections among others.
Almost all traditional medicine that is used by the community around Kakamega forest comes from the forest.
Unfortunately, these trees are facing a threat of extinction due to climate change and human activities.
Kakamega forest has over 1000 species of plants, 80 per cent of these plants being considered as highly medicinal.
Some of the medicinal trees include Mandia Whyteii which is locally known as Mukombero, Fagara known as Shikhuma and Olea Capensisi known as Elgon teak.
Forty key species of medicinal plants used by local people have been identified and recorded. Fifty-five percent of these are shrubs, thirty-two percent trees, seven-and-a-half percent are lower plants such as herbs or forbs while five percent are climbers.
About seventy percent of the medicinal plants grow inside the forest while thirty percent around the edge and the immediate surroundings outside the forest.
Although these medicine trees are found in Kakamega forest, some of the species that were in existence years ago are already facing extinction. Finding them is not as easy as it was before.
In the near future we might not be able to see some of these herb trees in the forest anymore because of adverse effects of climate change and human activities.
Human activities in the forest such as cutting down of the trees for timber poses a threat to the existance of some of these indigenous medicinal species such as Fagara
In addition, because of increased demand, local residents now target the medicinal plants in the forest due to a shortage of the traditional medicine in their homes.
Some of the trees were uprooted because of settlement, harvest and even mining. Residents harvest them from the forest to plant them at their homes.
These trees are reduced every day in the forest due to high demand of traditional medicine by the community living around the forest.
Medicinal plants like the famous mugombero which were abundant in homes have become very rare nowadays because of the reasons above.
An environmentalist and a climate change activist from the University of Nairobi Prof Cromwel Busolo has raised the need to come up with sustainable measures that will help in conserving biodiversity in the forest.
He has recommended that the fallen trees, instead of being used as firewood, should be left to decay in the forest so that those gases that were stored in the tree get back to the soil.
This will prevent the emission of more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere when firewood is burnt hence reducing global warming that is a threat ti to the growth of medicinal plants.
In addition, the carbon gas released in the soil is useful to the growth of the other remaining medicinal plants species in the forest.
In order to curb adverse effects brought by human activities, Prof Busolo has raised the need for local residents to plant their own medicine.
This will increase the supply of medicinal plants near them hence they will not go for those in the forest.
There is a need for the government to act very fast to save the remaining medicinal plant species.
The County government of Kakamega should come up with a system of educating the community around the forest on how to correctly harvest these plants without killing them and come up with sustainable measures to protect the forest.