The African plum tree, an endangered species, is sold illegally in the markets of Bujumbura. Environmentalists call on the environmental authority to punish these traders in order to curb the abusive and illicit exploitation of this tree. The OBPE wants to be reassuring. Investigation.
Sunday. 10 hours. The surroundings of the Kinama market are always full. The pouring rain has sprinkled Bujumbura since last night, but attendance at this market remains strong. Since the renovation of this market, no vendor is allowed to display their wares outside.
However, the sidewalk of the cobblestone street behind this market is occupied by herbal medicine vendors. The cars try to make their way through a hubbub of horns. It is here that the traditional healers of the economic capital Bujumbura get their supplies. One of the sellers entices customers: ” Ceux qui cherchent umumung, umunumunumunumunumur, umahangahga, umumuramura, venez! On vend à bas prix.»
The identity of well-guarded suppliers
However, the exploitation and trade of one of these spreading species has been prohibited in Burundi since 2008. It is the “umuremera”, the African plum tree. This seller informs that the price of African plum tree bark is 10,000 BIF. Ditto for its fruit. Asked where he extracts these barks, he kicks in touch : « Buy or leave me alone.»
Inside the market, there is also a place reserved for traditional healers. There, the African plum tree is highly prized. It is a very expensive business. It is sold in powder. Jérémie*, a traditional practitioner, does not hide the price of this product: “ A spoonful of the powder from the bark costs 3000 BIF. » For that coming from its fruits, the price goes up to 4000 BIF per spoonful. Asked about the identity of his suppliers, he gives evasive answers. When we ask the question again, he is embarrassed and continues to dodge the question. ” We are waiting for them to supply us because we cannot reach the place in which they are planted because it is protected by soldiers and eco-guards “, he lets go.
African plum, a highly valued medicinal plant
These remarks reveal that these sellers and collectors of the African plum tree are aware that they are engaged in illegal trade. But who are they? Their identity is jealously guarded by the seller. But without a shadow of a doubt we can affirm that those who collect the bark of the African plum tree in Kibira Park benefit from the complicity of those who guard this park.
Léonard*, also a seller, indicates that he has great difficulty in obtaining supplies of African plum tree bark: “ We tried to plant seeds in our properties, but they did not germinate. They dried up. »
Leonardo praises the medicinal virtues of the African plum tree: ” I have been in this business since 2000, I have never seen a species that cures as many diseases as the African plum tree. According to him, it treats urinary and digestive tract disorders (impanga), abdominal pain, body aches (ikinyamugongo), stomach aches (Igisigo), prostate (umusipa), diabetes, cancer and malaria, etc
Environmentalists are sounding the alarm
According to Albert Mbonerane, president of the Green Belt Action for the Environment (ACVE), the people who sell the bark of the African plum tree are known because they are installed in known markets. ” The police and forest administration should go to the market to interview these vendors to find out their suppliers “, insists the environmentalist
Jacques Nkengurutse, researcher and teacher at the University of Burundi, points out the existence of the African plum tree in the forests on the Congo-Nile ridge: “In addition to its presence in Kibira, it is found in the nature reserve of Bururi, Rumonge and Ruvubu. In the past, it could be found in Muramvya or Kayanza. With galloping demography, it was cut off by people looking for cultivable land. »
Mr. Nkengurutse indicates that the OBPE is in the process of making a census of the plum trees of Africa populating the natural reserves of Burundi. It recommends that the OBPE double its efforts to curb the abusive and illicit exploitation of this tree: “ With good regulations, this tree can bring in foreign currency because it can be bought well on the international market. It must therefore be protected from abusive exploitation..»
No one has the authorization to exploit the African plum tree
Berchmans Hatungimana, director general of the OBPE, affirms that the tradi-tradicians get their supplies from the protected parks. And immediately add: The African plum is found in the nature reserves of Kibira and Bururi. But they don’t have our permission. »
This forestry authority emphasizes that these traditional practitioners do not only market the African plum tree but also other plants. ” They are supervised by the Ministry of Health. Our role is to ensure that they do not degrade the environment in their quest for medicine “, he explains.
Two solutions to protect this species
The OBPE indicates that the African plum tree is a species widely used by the population. To protect the parks, this office created a nursery of 120,000 plants last year. For this current year, another 50,000 African plum plants are being planted.
Mr. Hatungimana informs that the OBPE has already planted some of the seedlings in Kibira. Others were distributed to households bordering the Kibira Park to plant this species in their owners. But this species grows slowly. Reason for which, those which planted this tree cannot exploit it in less than 15 years.
Participatory management is the second possible solution for protecting the African plum tree. ” In the near future, we are going to exploit a law regulating participatory forest management and see if we can authorize traditional healers to go into the forests to collect the bark of medicinal trees. This will result in a collaboration agreement to avoid abusive exploitation “, he concluded.
A threatened species
Currently, there is a need to control the medicinal plants available on the market. Carried out in 2020, an OBPE survey on the socio-economic importance of the African plum tree in Burundi revealed that it cures more than 42 diseases.
In July 2006 in Lima, Peru, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) noted that Burundi was trading African plum without knowing the quantity present on its soil. . Burundi was recommended to produce a stock inventory called a non-detriment finding until December 31, 2008. Otherwise, it would be suspended.
In September 2006, Burundi established a zero export quota until a non-detriment finding for this species is produced. The studies were carried out in 2013 and 2014. The most recent dates back to 2021. Its conclusion is not reassuring: “ The exploitation of Prunus africana is possible but many things remain to be done before undertaking the actual exploitation. » This report shows that there are problems in controlling the exploitation and export of special products, such as the African plum tree. The protection of this species is also problematic: “ Free access to the African plum tree in Protected Areas to extract the bark. »
This survey was carried out with the
support from the Rainforest Journalism Fund in partnership with the Pulitzer Center
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