Medicinal plant trade in northern Kenya: economic importance, uses, and origin(1)

Despite the importance of the medicinal plant trade in Africa, little is known about the existing trade in Kenya outside major urban centers. We assessed the economic importance, uses, and origins of the plants traded in two major towns in northern Kenya. We interviewed vendors, assessed volumes and prices, and collected specimen samples for identification. We also discussed with collectors and made observations on harvesting techniques and species' relative abundance in the wild. Thirty species were found to be traded in Marsabit and Moyale towns, of which only Myrsine africana L. was collected in a forest. The seven most frequently traded species accounted for an annual volume of 5500 kg with an annual retail value of US$25,900. Several uses mentioned by vendors had not been previously reported in the literature. Interestingly, some species high in demand in major urban centers are abundant in these montane forests. Our study highlights the substantial economic importance of the medicinal plant trade in the area and the strong effect ethnicity has on plant use. While more research is needed on the previously undocumented uses of certain plant species, it seems that the trade of certain species could be further promoted.