Dual-purpose weeds

Two stories today about different ways of looking at the same plant. I was walking along a fairly major road in a suburb of Nairobi this morning and I noticed a “jua kali” artisan selling interesting-looking stuff. “Jua kali” is Kiswahili for “under the sun” and is commonly used hereabouts to refer to the informal sector, because under the sun is where most of them transact their business, as in this case. Anyway, I ended up buying the magazine rack pictured here, for about US$15.

The frame is metal, but the rest is made of a tough-looking fibre I couldn’t place. I asked what it was and was very surprised to hear that it is water hyacinth. That’s a very cool use for a noxious weed, which is again choking up Lake Victoria, after a successful biological control effort. It turns out that making furniture out of the stuff is not all that uncommon.

And here’s the story of the mesquite bush in Kenya, a useful plant in some parts of the world (even used as food in some cultures), but seen as a terrible invasive here, in particular by pastoralists in the drier areas of the country. But I bet people are working on novel, profitable uses. Maybe someone in northern Kenya is already marketing mesquite honey, or carvings made of mesquite wood?

5 Replies to “Dual-purpose weeds”

  1. An interesting topic. The debate on mesquite is old. I remember Texas had and may still have an eradication program.

    Another example is kudzu in the American south. Introduced as an excellent forage and green manure, which it is, it is considered a satanic enemy by most residents today.

    I think these issues are mostly management issues. ICRAF says mesquite should be controlled by human use. Kudzu can be extremely useful. The problem might be, who is willing to devote the labor necessary to turn the ‘noxious weeds’ into valuable biotic resources? It is more than just doing this or that activity. It involves an entire vision of one’s ecology.

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