Prunus africana conservation in the Aberdare highlands: A DW video
A new documentary by DW, Germany’s international broadcaster, gives a snapshot of the status of the African cherry tree, Prunus africana, in the Aberdare highlands of Kenya. The bark of P. africana is highly sought after for its medicinal activity, most famously its action against prostate conditions. Liquid extracts of the bark are used to treat benign prostatic hyperplasia (swollen prostate), which can predispose a person to prostate cancer.
Focusing on a traditional healer and two women —a farmer and a biochemistry postgraduate—the video, titled ‘Saving Kenya’s anti-cancer tree,’ chronicles some of the work being done to conserve this valuable but endangered tree species.
The video opens at the foothills of the Aberdare highlands, where the Green Belt Movement is working with women like Mary Nyambura to establish Prunus africana nurseries from forest-collected seedlings. These saplings are then used to reforest surrounding landscapes.
The documentary then takes the viewer to a laboratory at Kenyatta University, where the Dorothy Nyamai, a postgraduate student, is assessing the medicinal properties of P. africana bark extracts.
Dorothy is a research fellow attached to ICRAF’s Tree Diversity, Domestication and Delivery program under the supervision of Dr Alice Muchugi. Her MSc research seeks to evaluate whether the bark of cultivated P. africana trees, sampled from a small plantation established by ICRAF and Kenya Forest Service in 1997 in the outskirts of Nairobi, has the same medicinal properties as wild, forest-collected P. africana bark.
Dorothy is working closely with James Kimani Njuguna, a traditional healer also featured in the video discussing how he harvests and uses the bark in local herbal medicine. Traditional healers in Kenya boil the raw or pounded bark to produce an infusion that is used to treat a host of illnesses, from stomach aches to wounds to loss of appetite.
The results of Dorothy’s MSc research will shed light on whether P. africana grown on farms and woodlots could help meet the high demand from the pharmaceutical industry.
For the tree to be cultivated widely by farmers, P. africana domestication, started by ICRAF and partners in the 1990s, would need to be stepped up, and combined with actions on seedling systems and marketing.
Under the World Agroforestry Centre’s Tree Diversity, Domestication and Delivery program, innovative, participatory approaches are being used to domesticate, promote and conserve high-value tree species in partnership with smallholder farmers. Target species include Prunus africana, baobab (Adansonia digitata), tamarind (Tamarindus indica), and many other traditionally important species.
Growing wild-harvested but valuable species like Prunus africana on farms, coupled with sustainable harvesting, could also help keep the endangered forest trees safe from further decimation, and rebuild indigenous tree-associated biodiversity.
Watch DW video: Saving Kenya’s anti-cancer tree
For facts about Prunus africana, visit ICRAF agroforestry species switchboard