Africa’s wild fruits, from Baobab fruit and Tree Grapes to Tamarindus and wild plums, are emerging as serious crops, spawning commercialisation and supporting hundreds of farmers in arid and semi arid areas, after long being left as no more than feed for livestock, wild animals and birds.
The indigenous fruits, say scientists, are native to Africa, where they originated and have evolved over centuries, as opposed to exotic fruits, such as citrus and even mango, which have been imported from other continents.
“Mango particularly is common across much of Africa, but actually originated in Southeast Asia. Indigenous trees, such as Marula, Baobab, African Plum, are mostly found wild, although some are now planted, but they all evolved in the African environment,” said Victor Theuri from Bridgenet Africa.
Farmers from the lower end of Eastern Province and the semi arid Kieni district of Central Kenya are among those now domesticating and commercializing the wild fruits in ventures ranging from value addition, drying them for use during “hungry months”, and selling the seeds to other agropreneurs keen on investing in the wild fruits.
The fruits from the giant Baobab tree, Tree Grapes, and the avocado-like fruit sometimes called an Afrocado or Tamarindus, are all highly nutritious, being rich in proteins and carbohydrates, calcium, phosphorous and iron, and readily available in Kenya.
Farmers are pounding Baobab fruits in a mortar, then drying them in the sun to produce a powder. The ‘flour’ is then mixed with water and a little sugar and eaten raw. They have begun selling this flour in Makueni and Kitui districts for Sh5 to Sh10 a cup. The Baobab tree is also producing fibre that is being used to make ropes sold locally.
The potential of the fruits has now seen researchers swing into action, collaborating with farmers and benefiting from indigenous knowledge.
The Kenya Forestry Research Institute (KEFRI), one such institution, has already pitched tent in Eastern province in a bid to teach farmers better ways of collecting and domesticating indigenous fruits and how to break dormancy of the seeds so that they can grow trees easily, which mature early. With some of the seeds taking a long time to grow or failing to grow at all, scientists are even developing new ways of breaking dormancy for easy propagation.
KEFRI field days have also been teaching farmers value addition processes like making jam and juice from Baobab, Vitex payos and Tamarindus. “Although the locals have information about the indigenous fruits, they need to be empowered with scientific knowledge so they can exploit the fruits fully for domestic and commercial purposes,” said Pauline, a scientist with KEFRI.
Nurseries are also being set up to domesticate and cultivate the fruit tree seeds to save farmers traveling long distances to source them. Once seedlings have been raised in the nurseries they are being replanted in community plots or on individual farms.
In Kieni, where the wild fruits project was first introduced by University of Nairobi College of Agriculture scientists in 2000, there were two farmer-run nurseries, but there are now several hundred such nurseries across the country. Many are independent businesses, making significant profits and providing enough trees to transform the lives of tens of thousands of rural families.
Zachary Mbau has been selling the seedlings to buyers from coming as far as the peri-urban areas of Nyeri and Sagana. The 40-year-old farmer also supplies the fruits in the local Kieni market earning from Sh3000 to Sh4000 for the 10 kgs of the fruits that he typically sells. “And this is not counting the others that I sell to exporting companies who pick them at even a higher price. For a kilo of Tamarindus they buy at Sh1,000 and I manage to supply them with only five kilos, because I can’t meet the demand,” said Mbau.
In the same district, a group of young farmers last year set up a wild fruit tree nursery that has attracted over 1500 people and made seedling sales of over Sh100,000 in its first year. Each seedling sells for between Sh30 and Sh100.
Scientists are now urging farmers to explore even more avenues, arguing that there are over 3,000 species of wild fruit trees, with only a fraction of them domesticated. If these resources are not now developed, large-scale deforestation and unpredictable weather patterns could rob the continent of much of this potential.
“Most indigenous fruit trees are not yet domesticated, so these species provide an important source of genetic diversity, which is vital for preserving characteristics that are well adapted to local conditions. If these trees are not protected, this important genetic information – and the indigenous knowledge that has been passed on for generations – will be lost,” said Mr Theuri.
Elsewhere in Africa, Zambian farmers have domesticated a wild fruit called uapaca kirkiana which makes the ‘musuku’ wine that is a favourite in the country. They are selling the fruit to a local brewery, which is providing transport for collection.
Novella, a public-private partnership involving, among others, Unilever, the World Agroforestry Center and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is likewise promoting promotes the domestication of Allanblackia, a group of trees whose seeds contain oil perfect for making margarine. This project has already drawn over 10,000 farmers in Ghana and Tanzania with the hope of increasing the number to 200,000 farmers growing 25 million Allanblackia trees within a decade.
The project projects that the trees could earn as much as $2 billion a year, which is half the annual value of West Africa's most important agricultural export, cocoa.
Written by Bob Koigi for African Laughter
Newer news items:
- PROFIT deal aims to deliver $100m more in farmers loans - 19/06/2012 10:49
- M-Calc gives local weather solutions to up outputs - 13/06/2012 14:04
- JK aims to increase loans to rural farmers six-fold - 06/06/2012 08:42
- Agricultural growth slowed 2011 on drought - 22/05/2012 13:45
- Rice farmers cut costs and seed loss with plastic drum planting - 05/04/2012 13:14
Older news items:
- Farmers to go mobile to buy inputs and budget - 01/03/2012 13:27
- 1000 farmers plant indian miracle tree - 01/03/2012 13:18
- Aloe vera adds up as precious weed - 01/03/2012 12:44
- Kakamega farmers scoop top global awards for growing wild plant - 01/03/2012 12:41
- Clones promise route to kplc pole market - 01/03/2012 12:26