Kakamega Forest, the easternmost fragment of the Guinea-Congolian rainforest is world-famous for its unique biodiversity, which includes a variety of flora and fauna.

Over the past two decades, icipe and partners have led a conservation effort for the forest, while improving the livelihoods of the community living adjacent.

One of the efforts by icipe and partners was the introduction of on-farm cultivation of medicinal plants. Among the species that they introduced was Ocimum kilimandscharicum, an indigenous medicinal herb of the mint family, known locally as Mwonyi, which was used traditionally to treat colds and flu, coughs, sore eyes, diarrhea, abdominal pains and measles.

The scientists proposed that, instead of harvesting Ocimum kilimandscharicum from the wild, the community members could grow the plant on their farms. Through the Muliru Farmers Conservation Group, the idea not only caught on, but has established a new enterprise called the Muliru Enterprise. Using the essential oils from these leaves, icipe, together with the University of Nairobi, developed a commercially branded range of products known as Naturub®, which includes a balm and an ointment.

With assistance from icipe and its partners, and funding from UNDP/GEF-Small Grants Programme, the Ford Foundation, the Swiss-based BioVision Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, PACT-Kenya/USAID and the European Union through the SWITCH Africa Programme, the farmers have been able to put up a hydro-distillation facility in their village. The ‘wet’ leaves from the Ocimum kilimandscharicum herb generate three times the income that farmers previously obtained from maize cultivation. The group members have also mastered the technology of extracting essential oils from the leaves of the plant. Importantly, the Muliru Enterprise now has all the necessary enterprise development capacity to contract other farmers adjacent to Kakamega forest and to manufacture Naturub® range of products and make them available in leading outlets across the country. In short, the farmers are now running a commercially viable, profit-making venture, without any detriment to the forest.