Yay, Science: Goat-Killing Plant Becomes Kenyan Energy Source
In a rural farming village in Kenya, a shrub that once poisoned hungry goats and left many of the animals toothless is being converted into an energy source that can light up homes and earn fast cash for residents.
Farmers and their families in Baringo County can make up to $1,000 a year for harvesting and selling the plant known as mathenge, according to Reuters. The plant, once converted into fuel by an electric power station, is bringing power to some village homes for the first time and reducing power outages for others.
Since the program’s installation last August, energy company Cummins Cogeneration Kenya Limited is earning praise from some villagers whose livestock was harmed by the toxic plant.
“This is helping my family recover from the loss we incurred when our goats died after eating mathenge,” Jane Chirchir, a Marigat resident who sells the shrub to Cummins, told Reuters.
The problematic plant was initially introduced to fight another problem—prolonged droughts in the 1970s had brought desertification to parts of northern Kenya. The Kenyan government and United Nations officials promoted certain plants, including the prosopis shrub, which became the most widely planted.
However, the plant proved to have more hazardous effects than benefits after herders claimed their animals had died from eating its pods. In 2006, farmers sued the government, demanding compensation for their losses and the plant’s removal from the land. Four years later, the case was thrown out of court.
Now, about 2,000 farming families earn two Kenyan shillings for every kilo of mathenge collected and given to the electric plant—a payout that’s the equivalent of two U.S. cents. The power plant, located on a 15-acre plot outside of town, converts mathenge into energy by burning bundles of the shrub.
An added benefit of having steady electricity means better medical care for families in Baringo County, where clinics have relied on shoddy generators.
“The energy project is going to be a game changer for the people and the economy of this region,” Robat Rono, a medic at Marigat Health Centre in Rift Valley, told Reuters. “We are even planning to increase our hospital bed capacity if this energy source proves reliable.”