Founded in 1997 and formally registered as a Community Based Organization in 1999, a group of small-scale farmers in rural Western Kenya established MFCG with the mission to protect and conserve Kakamega Forest. Kakamega Forest, covering an area of 240 km2 and containing more than a thousand unique species of flora and fauna, is Kenya’s last remaining rainforest, which was once part of the vast equatorial Congo-Guinean forest that stretched from the continent’s Atlantic coast to its Indian one. The farmers that founded MFCG saw an acute, urgent need to raise awareness in the local communities of the dire state of the forest and to support the local and national governments’ efforts to conserve the forest.
MFCG initially began by using traditional advocacy methods to reach out to their communities to educate them about the forest. It wasn’t easy at first in trying to share the message that the forest had to be protected. In particular, MFCG had to convey the intense pressure Kakamega Forest had come under over the years due to the growing and increasingly impoverished population found in western Kenya. The forest was a readily available, go-to resource for firewood, game meat, and wild fruit and vegetables. While the local population had lived off the forest and its abundance for millennia, it was now becoming obvious that the forest would perish under the relenting demand for human growth and development. MFCG’s founding farmers quickly discovered that their goal of conserving the forest seemed to contravene their fellow community members’ most basic and overwhelming instincts for survival—often without regard for the environmental cost.
At this point, it dawned on MFCG that it must tie the preservation of the forest to the economic interests of its surrounding communities. Consequently, MFCG changed its approach and began highlighting how the communities relied on the forest for their survival and that if the forest were no longer there, how would the community survive? By underscoring the impending loss of these traditional natural resources, MFCG began changing the attitudes of the forest’s human communities. This and other activities increased MFCG’s credibility and eventually led to its recognition by outside organizations.
In 2000, MFCG began partnering with organizations like ICIPE, a Kenyan scientific research institute focused on using science to discover natural resources that could be developed and commercialized to promote the conservation of endangered environmental hotspots. ICIPE was and still is particularly concerned about those areas with an abundance of biodiversity and ecologically sensitive organisms. Having heard about MFCG’s efforts to conserve Kakamega Rainforest, ICIPE wanted to know if there were any particular traditional plants that the communities around Kakamega used. ICIPE and MFCG eventually settled upon the wild ocimum kilimandscharicum plant, which had been traditionally used to treat insect bites, muscle aches, colds and nasal congestion. ICIPE soon determined the active compound in the plant and began testing different products in which it could be commercialized. In the meantime, MFCG had to domesticate the plant so it could encourage farmers to grow the plant in order to provide enough of it to ICIPE as it began zeroing in on the best applications for its essential oils and extracts.
Fast forward a few years and MFCG now has 460 farmers growing ocimum, which provides an additional income to the farmer and creates employment at local processing and collection centers. The ocimum is distilled in Kakamega to its essential oils and crystals, which are then transported to Nairobi to be manufactured into the Naturub® brand of balms and ointments that are sold in stores and pharmacies throughout Kenya. Naturub® products can be most likened to Vick’s Vapor Rub® in the United States and elsewhere. Ocimum contains natural camphor, a compound that when inhaled helps clear nasal congestion and colds. It also can reduce inflammation and aches related to insect bites and muscle soreness. Moreover, MFCG, ICIPE and their commercial partners are exploring additional products to be produced from ocimum and other traditional plants from Kakamega.
Before MFCG had begun its work with the ocimum plant, 40% of the households surrounding Kakamega Forest had no sustainable source of income. Those households now participating in MFCG’s activities have a regular income, which puts their children in schools and provides food and shelter amongst other life necessities. MFCG can directly ties its activities and efforts to all of the world’s Millennium Development Goals. In particular, we at ONE acknowledge that MFCG is particularly effective at MDG 7 (ensuring environmental sustainability) while the income MFCG’s members earn enable them to eradicate extreme poverty (MDG 1), educate their children (MDG 2) and seek any necessary health treatments (MDGs 4, 5 & 6).
We’re proud to have MFCG as a finalist for this year’s ONE Africa Award!