Year-round, the legume tree Senna italica can be harvested in the drought-prone country of Senegal. In the commune of Kaymor, women in multiple villages grow the shrub on a large scale to compensate for losses the economy of Senegal has faced as a changing climate threatens their agricultural production.
The shrub provides some 300 women with agriculture training activities to capitalize on the economic benefits, and also brings medicinal benefits. The Senegalese use the plant to treat stomach discomfort, venereal diseases, jaundice, intestinal worms, and even skin irritation. Tea made from its leaves is said to help induce labor, and a root infusion can apparently be used to treat sore eyes. For now, its medicinal use makes local trade more common than anything else.
But outside of Senegal, the plant is still in demand. To the north, in Mauritania, people smoke the seeds. In Eastern Africa, the plant is mainly used to feed livestock. And internationally, the crushed dried leaves of the plant are used in hair conditioner and dye sometimes called “natural henna.”
Senna italica is easy to produce, available for harvest only two months after it is planted, and seemingly immune to the rising temperatures and decreasing rainfall that agricultural researchers believe will only get worse.
The economy of Senegal is growing regardless of the shrub, In fact, Senegal is second in Africa only to Cote D’Ivoire for growth. For that reason, many of the local women harvesting the plant are happy to reap its medicinal benefits and use the excess profit to buy groundnut seeds for their husbands.
Groundnut seeds are one of the staple cash crops of Senegal, so men so far are less involved in the harvesting of Senna italica, busy harvesting crops they have relied on for centuries. Yet village women are quickly discovering that as much money can be made from a hectare of the medicinal plant as two hectares of groundnuts, which are only seasonal.
In a local growers association of 70 women, each harvest can produce 500,000 CFA francs (close to $800) to support the local economy. With poverty still affecting 46.7 percent of the population, helping local economies helps the economy of Senegal, and this medicinal shrub offers an efficient way to empower women and fight poverty.
– Brooke Clayton