Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Fig tree: the heritage of Nguruman

By Rafael Mutiso

Fig trees are rare, useful and grow naturally in sites with high water table, swamps and along rivers. In Nguruman, they mainly grow along the numerous streams and water canals constructed by farmers to convey water to their farms hence their spread and abundance in the area. They require soils that are sandy, rich and well drained. The trees are propagated through seeds and cuttings. When cultivated in a home garden they require considerable space as they enlarge, spread, very shady and are fairly fast growing. The most common species of fig trees is Ficus carica known as the common fig.

Common fig found in Nguruman  (Ficus carica)
The tree, due to its large size provides a cool shade, aesthetic value, and acts as a wind breaker. It also acts as a carbon sink keeping the air fresh. Its roots helps to hold soil firmly hence reducing soil erosion and increase water retention. This plays a key role in land improvement. It also acts as a mulch reducing loss of water through evaporation thus supporting vegetation underneath.

The inhabitants of Nguruman area are mainly the maa people who value the tree for its diverse uses. They use its leaves as fodder for their livestock by cutting the branches. The leaves are fairly high in nutritive value with about 9% crude  protein dry matter. Fruits are    eaten by livestock especially goat and sheep. Wild animals like monkeys, baboons and gazelles eat the fig fruits. Birds mainly the Mouse birds, pigeons and many specious of doves among other birds feed on the fig fruits thus supporting wildlife and reducing human wildlife conflict. They are also consumed by people; fresh, stewed or dried and stored for later use. Ripe figs are used for alcoholic beverages. The inner bark is used to make strong ropes used by women to carry firewood and water over long distances.

Nguruman residents also use the tree for various medicinal purposes. The leaves are used to treat snakebites and jaundice. The latex is said to be effective for chest diseases, colds and dysentery while the bark is used to treat coughs, throat infections, chest pain and anaemia in children hence saving lives as well as medicinal costs.

Some species of the tree has several spiritual and sacred uses such as performing various rituals in the community such as keeping away evil spirits. It is also a focal point for resolving conflict among the people.

Although the importance of the fig tree is irreplaceable and therefore must be conserved to keep the species around for a long time, it faces a big challenge as there is an ongoing project to pipe water for irrigation leaving the canals dry. This is a clear indication that all the fig trees along the canals may dry up.

Those who visit Nguruman will enjoy the shade and beautiful scenery created by the towering green indigenous fig trees.

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