Eden’s apple growing wild at Munglu Echo farm. [Photo: Joe Ombuor/Standard]
Wonders abound side by side with natural beauty in pristine forests. Such is the case in the 150-acre Munglu Echo farm and Conservancy close to Homa Bay town where occasional explosives send visitors diving for safety, only to realise there’s no terror in the nature saturated vicinity.
The ear-splitting explosives that can be mistaken for bombs emanate from seeds of a shrub known in the local Dholuo dialect as ombasa (tylosema fassoglense.
The pent-up energy so released sends the tiny seeds as far as 30 centimetres afield from the parent crop, an effective mode of natural propagation according to environmentalist Brian Odira, the echo farm’s operations manager.
The creeping plant that entwines itself around other plants is easily noticeable above other flora in the thick forest as it goes for the full reach of the sun to tap as much solar energy as possible to facilitate the explosion.
“Its yellowish flowers hanging high in the air announce its presence for a keen observer,” says Odira.
He says ombasa seed is sought after by herbalists for its medicinal qualities and warns against transporting it in public service vehicles where it has often caused accidents by scaring off unsuspecting passengers and drivers.
“Heard of Loliondo Village in Northern Tanzania where thousands flocked a few years ago to get miracle cure from a magic potion? The ingredients included ombasa seed,” says Odira.
“It was believed the Loliondo potion cured HIV/Aids because ombasa seed is effective against opportunistic diseases and is known to strengthen body immunity, but it is no cure for the virus,” explains Odira.
While Adam and Eve lived at the beginning of creation, one does not have to travel to the area between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers in modern day Iraq to see the forbidden fruit they ate.
The fruit is right here at Munglu Echo Farm and Conservancy.
What the Luo call olemo that translates into fruit is rare but traceable in thick bush with succulent yellowish fruits that humans and animals relish without punitive consequences. The fruit according to Odira is a detoxifier.
So is the more common ochuoga (Carissa macrocarpa) that clears food poisoning within minutes.
The forest is replete with medicinal plants. One called obudo (Asparagus Flagellaris) has roots that resemble giant arrowroots (nduma). “The root when boiled and drunk acts like a broad spectrum antibiotic against bacterial infections,” says Odira.
A member of the fern family, obudo has needle like leaves that remain green even during the dry season and is popular with herbalists, according to Odira.
Ability to self prune
Also aplenty in the echo farm and conservancy is ogalo (piliostiga thonningili) a plant with bell shaped white flowers whose broad leaves treat chest infections such as bronchitis and coughs when chewed.
Besides medicinal trees and fruits, the echo farm is home to a rare acacia suitable for production of honey less in sugar content.
The white honey manufactured by bees from the tree’s white flowers is said to be good for diabetics, hence its high price as compared to the dark poly-floral honey,” explains Odira.
The acacia’s ability to self-prune keeps it straight for hard wood timber at maturity while ensuring ready fuel from the shed branches, thus saving the forest from destruction by people fetching firewood.
“Acacia is known to flourish in arid environments but this particular one called ogongo does well in the lake region where rainfall is above average,” explains Odira.
The echo farm and conservancy is heaven to over 20 species of birds, among them falcons, pigeons, guinea fowls, wild quails, kites and red robins.
Mammals migrate from nearby Ruma national park and include various types of antelopes. Reptiles, amphibians and rodents are also aplenty. Creatures from the insect world include the wide-eyed cicadas singing noisily in the trees, the gaudy butterflies, the powdery moths and the stinging wasps and bees to mention but a few.
Among the snakes are the cannibal king cobra that feeds on other snakes, giant pythons that prey on the innumerous dic dic and other antelopes and the poisons black mamba, puff udders and boom slangs that feed on rats and other rodents in the undergrowth. Mongoose, porcupines, raccoons and hedgehogs in turn feed on snakes.
“Everything that lives here is useful to the echo system. We do not fear snakes because they bite only in self-defense when provoked and to kill their prey for food,” says Odira.
“Plans are underway to introduce giraffes as an enhancement to the farm’s tourist attraction once all the conditions by the Kenya Wildlife Service are met. “We already have more than 100 acres, one of the conditions,” enthuses Odira.
“No chemicals are used here and plants are grown without human activities such as weeding. We grow fruit seedlings for the farmers surrounding our farm as we intend to have a richer farm in the future, he says.
Benefits to the surrounding community according to Mr Odira include increased rainfall.