The root of love is going to vanishThe secret of the African potency goes from yohimbe and buffalo beans in West Africa to the sex tree of Uganda. The sex tree, Citropsis articulata is a short humble bush related to the citrus trees and grows in Uganda's rain forest. Now it faces extinction as African lover boys overharvest its roots due to their supposed aphrodisiac and anti-impotence qualities.
The bush is now quickly disappearing from Uganda's Mabira Forest Reserve, one of the last remaining Ugandan rain forests.
"In addition to the sex tree, other medicinal plant species such as Prunus africana, a tree commonly used to treat malaria and some forms of cancer, are also being depleted. In a few years many medicinal plants will be very scarce in Ugandan forests," signaled Mauda Kamatenesi, a botanist at Uganda's Makarere University.
"Loss of the plants would not only do irreversible damage to the rain forest, but it would also deprive scientists of the opportunity to the study the plants' possible medicinal properties. The [sex] tree may have other medicinal values apart from treating sexual impotence, and we are losing out if we let these plants go extinct without doing more research. The people say that the medicines work." she added.
This extinction worries the locals.
"We often take the Prunus africana plant to boost immunity and Citropsis articulata to enhance sex drive. The leaves and roots of the plants are chewed or boiled for tea. If these plants are lost, it would be a burden. The forest caters to many people." said Ibrahim Senfuma, a bird-hunting guide living near the forest reserve.
A huge menace for the rain forest could be the approval by the government of a plan to make room for a sugarcane plantation, by clearing 25 % of the forest, about 17,000 acres (7,000 hectares).
In 2006, President Yoweri Museveni demanded a study into the feasibility of clearing the forest. This angered officials at the National Forestry Authority (NFA), but also Mabira residents and members in Museveni's government. Since the autumn of 2006 there have been various protests against the plan, including a violent rally this March that registered three deaths. For the residents, the forest is the main source of livelihood, food and shelter.
"If they chop down all the trees, where will we get our medicine?" asked Faziira Nakalama, a domestic worker.
"If the forest is cut down, we would lose access to many things we need," added Henry Lubega, a building worker.
Museveni's administration says jobs produced by the plantation would overcome losses provoked by the clearing of forest land.
"Is Uganda going to depend on firewood forever?" Museveni's press secretary, Tamale Mirundi, said to National Geographic News.
"Many investors are interested in developing Uganda, and it would be a mistake not to take advantage of an opportunity to modernize the country. It is a question of utilizing resources," Mirundi said.
But the feasibility study showed that the ecological and economic harm produced by the clearing would be severe. Rare trees and birds in the 74,000-acre (30,000-hectare) forest would be menaced. Nine species endemic in Mabira would face extinction: the tit hylia bird, six species of butterflies and one of moth, and a shrub used in the traditional medicine against malaria.
The plan would impede gains from logging and ecotourism, the main source of tourism income in Uganda.
Tourism officials at Mabira are urging locals to limit their use of the fast disappearing drug plants.
"Our job is to teach people about sustainable forest use. Plants such as the sex tree are being uprooted completely, which poses a major problem because the species grow slowly," said Judith Ahebwa, manager of the Mabira Ecotourism Centre.
"I use the dry firewood, because I don't want to cut down any more trees." said Lasu Faru, an elder resident.