INTRODUCTION

Like Asia and the Americas, the continent of Africa is blessed with a rich tropical flora. Many of the 50,000 or so plants that evolved within its forests and savannas ripen fruits to tempt the myriad wild creatures into spreading their seeds. Speaking generally, Africa has as many of these tasty morsels as tropical Asia or America.

This fact, however, is something one would never guess by looking in produce markets or college textbooks. Today, American and Asian species dominate tropical fruit production worldwide, including within Africa itself.

For this, there is good reason. Africa’s fruits have not, by and large, been brought up to their potential in terms of quality, production, and availability. Geographically speaking, few have moved beyond Africa’s shores; horticulturally speaking, most remain poorly known. Thus, the vast continental landmass lying between Mauritania and Mauritius contains a cornucopia of horticultural, nutritional, and rural-development jewels still waiting to be cut and polished.

Perhaps it is not strange the world bypassed these fruits. Until comparatively recently, most populations in Africa were disperse enough that fruits—seasonally abundant—could be picked wild without the demands of cultivation under domestication. Further, many African cultures—like many others—regarded fruits less as daily fare than a refreshing snack, child food, or some other kind of non-serious indulgence. Then when mango, banana, citrus, cashew, and papaya arrived from Asia, and then when guava, pineapple, avocado, and passionfruit arrived from America, incentive for advancing local fruit diversity increasingly vanished. In the face of these highly domesticated newcomers, local fruits entered a downward spiral in which lack of respect and neglect led in turn to a progressively greater lack of awareness and knowledge, until Africa’s fruits receded into the background. Making matters worse was the reality of recent centuries, as traditional eating habits began to fade—including those incorporating or even depending on local fruits.

It should also be mentioned that the displacement of ancestral foods was not necessarily due to consumer preference. For one thing, compared to the already-improved foreign fruits, Africa’s species could seem relatively difficult to select and reproduce, a hindrance to expressing their potential qualities and achieving their ultimate place in the food supply. That feature further turned growers toward the better-known tropical fruits, whose breeding and propagation problems had been already overcome and whose culture could be found in books and colonial expertise. In this light, the



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement



Below are the first 10 and last 10 pages of uncorrected machine-read text (when available) of this chapter, followed by the top 30 algorithmically extracted key phrases from the chapter as a whole.
Intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text on the opening pages of each chapter. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.

Do not use for reproduction, copying, pasting, or reading; exclusively for search engines.

OCR for page 1
INTRODUCTION Like Asia and the Americas, the continent of Africa is blessed with a rich tropical flora. Many of the 50,000 or so plants that evolved within its forests and savannas ripen fruits to tempt the myriad wild creatures into spreading their seeds. Speaking generally, Africa has as many of these tasty morsels as tropical Asia or America. This fact, however, is something one would never guess by looking in produce markets or college textbooks. Today, American and Asian species dominate tropical fruit production worldwide, including within Africa itself. For this, there is good reason. Africa’s fruits have not, by and large, been brought up to their potential in terms of quality, production, and availability. Geographically speaking, few have moved beyond Africa’s shores; horticulturally speaking, most remain poorly known. Thus, the vast continental landmass lying between Mauritania and Mauritius contains a cornucopia of horticultural, nutritional, and rural-development jewels still waiting to be cut and polished. Perhaps it is not strange the world bypassed these fruits. Until comparatively recently, most populations in Africa were disperse enough that fruits—seasonally abundant—could be picked wild without the demands of cultivation under domestication. Further, many African cultures—like many others—regarded fruits less as daily fare than a refreshing snack, child food, or some other kind of non-serious indulgence. Then when mango, banana, citrus, cashew, and papaya arrived from Asia, and then when guava, pineapple, avocado, and passionfruit arrived from America, incentive for advancing local fruit diversity increasingly vanished. In the face of these highly domesticated newcomers, local fruits entered a downward spiral in which lack of respect and neglect led in turn to a progressively greater lack of awareness and knowledge, until Africa’s fruits receded into the background. Making matters worse was the reality of recent centuries, as traditional eating habits began to fade—including those incorporating or even depending on local fruits. It should also be mentioned that the displacement of ancestral foods was not necessarily due to consumer preference. For one thing, compared to the already-improved foreign fruits, Africa’s species could seem relatively difficult to select and reproduce, a hindrance to expressing their potential qualities and achieving their ultimate place in the food supply. That feature further turned growers toward the better-known tropical fruits, whose breeding and propagation problems had been already overcome and whose culture could be found in books and colonial expertise. In this light, the 1

OCR for page 1
LOST CROPS OF AFRICA 2 powers who until the last century wielded the purse strings also focused their funds—both production and research—on bananas, pineapple, coffee, cacao, oil palm, and other fruits of proven higher value as export crops. Thus, although the indigenous fruits described in the following section may be cultivated, most are unknown to the sort of large-scale organized operations that are routine with oranges, mango, banana, or papaya. Instead, they are grown mostly as small or solitary plantings in village settings and home gardens, and are produced more by tradition than horticultural technology. Almost all are raised from seed rather than the vegetative propagation that defines fruits elsewhere. As a result, yields are unreliable and often unrecorded, flavors are variable, and varieties unselected. Soil and fertility requirements remain uncertain, and even propagation techniques in some cases are unknown. In addition, nutritional information is lacking, incomplete, or so based on old or limited analyses it may be representative or may not be. Indeed, it has been said that the fruits of Africa largely persist in forms already recognized generations ago. It could also be said that the management of these plants largely persists in forms unchanged as well. Regardless of all difficulties and doubts, however, now is the time to rediscover this heritage, to apply the art of horticultural science to African fruits, and to make them work harder. Both the need and the opportunity are nowadays great. The tragic and widespread occurrence of ill health among children is one glaring example why support for Africa’s fruits is vital. Without doubt, neglect of nature’s own endlessly renewable nutritional supplements contributes to this malnourishment, at least in rural districts. Native fruit resources, measured against communal nutritional needs, seem likely to be of the highest value. They hold promise to become levers for lifting the most nutritionally vulnerable in the most widely scattered areas of Africa. Indeed, fruits make the best of all food supplements. Not only are they appealing to the vulnerable young and old and ill, they provide what might be called “sustainable nutrition.” Moreover, fruits provide their wealth in the locale most needing sustainable nutrition. Every quality-of-life indicator shows the rural poor generally face the worst hardships. Approximately three out of every four desperately poor Africans reside outside the cities. And for at least the coming generation, rural inhabitants will outnumber their urban counterparts, even if mass migration to the cities persists. If poverty’s weight falls especially heavily on its rural population, then rural development is vital for achieving overall poverty reduction and improvement in African life. And developing Africa’s own local fruits is one practical approach to nourishing these local lives.

OCR for page 1
INTRODUCTION 3 SUMMARIES OF INDIVIDUAL SPECIES Following are short summaries of ten notably promising cultivated fruits selected for treatment in this volume’s opening section. The potential of these species to confront humanitarian challenges in Africa is addressed in the sections following these summaries, as well as in Table 1 on page 7. This information is drawn from the detailed chapters that follow their Introduction. 1. Balanites (desert date, lalob) This small tree (Balanites aegyptiaca, Balanitaceae) tolerates heat and aridity so well it thrives into the heart of the Sahara. Deep-rooted and very spiny, it produces heavy yields of date-like fruits whose gummy, yellow-to- red pulp is more than a third sugar. Although these sweet treats are eaten raw, they are more commonly used as ingredients in cooked dishes. Some, however, are crushed and converted into drinks. The fruit also yields a kernel roughly matching sesame and soybean in composition, being about half oil and a third protein. To become edible it must be boiled for some time, but then it can be turned into many tasty items, including roasted snacks and a spread not unlike peanut butter. Climate arid 2. Baobab Few trees on earth engender respect like baobab (Adansonia digitata, Bombacaceae). Millions believe it receives divine power through the branches that look like arms stretching skyward (see the chapter on baobab as a vegetable in Volume II). Its fruits sometimes attain the size of melons, and their tough outer casings enclose angular packets of a strange, sticky pulp. A few hours in the sun dries this semisolid into a free-flowing, soluble powder. The resulting “baobabfruit flour” has a gingerbread flavor enlivened by a not unpleasant acid bite. It is nutritious enough to be stirred into warm water or milk to create a health drink. The fruit also contains nuts with an almond-like taste. Although difficult to get at (owing to a thick shell) the nuts are valued foodstuffs, eaten fresh, fermented, or roasted like peanuts. They are rich in both food energy and quality protein. Climate tropical 3. Butterfruit (safou, bush mango) Butterfruit (Dacryodes edulis, Burseraceae) may be unknown to the world, but in Central Africa and neighboring sections of West Africa this small tree is an almost universal component of traditional farming. Throughout this broad tropical belt it contributes importantly to nutrition and

OCR for page 1
LOST CROPS OF AFRICA 4 farmer income. Like tomato or eggplant, the fruit is mainly used as a vegetable. It has a pleasant smell and attractive appearance and is extremely high in food energy. Indeed, up to two-thirds of the pulp comprises an oil of very desirable composition. In addition, the pulp is one of the best protein sources to be found in the world of fruits. About a quarter of the dry pulp is protein, and it is of superior nutritional quality. To top all that, butterfruit provides notable dietary minerals. Climate tropical 4. Carissa Carissa (Carissa macrocarpa, Apocynaceae), from South Africa and Mozambique, yields masses of shiny fruits that are often call Natal plums. Their thin red skin covers a pinkish-red, almost mealy, flesh that is flecked with a milky juice. Flavor varies from tart to more or less sweet, depending upon variety and maturity. Even though production is now haphazard and essentially unsupported by the muscle of modern knowledge, carissa promises to become a much greater crop. Even in its present form this fruit has an ample edible portion and, having no stone in the center, it can be eaten whole. These versatile foodstuffs make tasty jams, jellies, and drinks as well as attractive highlights in salads and desserts of all kinds. Some taste like raspberry; most, though, are as tart as cranberry. Climate subtropical 5. Horned Melon A spiky orange oddity crammed with green jelly and white seeds, the horned melon (Cucumis metulifer, Cucurbitaceae) has gone global in recent decades; New Zealand, Israel, and Kenya are among countries shipping it around the world. Back in its native habitat, southern Africa, the plant is little used, but in a few places—Malawi, for instance—people grow it for sale in the local food markets. Seemingly, its home territories could make much more of this strange comestible, not only as a dessert fruit but also as a vegetable like cucumber. Climate temperate, subtropical, and semiarid 6. Kei Apple The shrubby plant known botanically as Dovyalis caffra (Flacourtiaceae) produces fruits that resemble little golden apples. Indigenous to the southern zone—including Malawi, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and South Africa—it becomes bespangled with fruits whose thin, tough skin shelters a yellow, melting, juicy pulp with a lively aroma. Climate subtropical

OCR for page 1
INTRODUCTION 5 7. Marula Marula (Sclerocarya birrea, Anacardiaceae) is prized for its fruits as well as its seeds. Both are in high demand from Cape Verde to the Cape of Good Hope. In some societies the tree ranks as a major food supplier. The plum- sized fruits have a thick yellow peel and translucent white flesh. They can be eaten fresh but most are processed into things such as beverages, jams, and jellies. Although the succulent pulp has a unique flavor, writers struggling for a frame of reference have variously likened it to litchi, apple, guava, or pineapple. The kernels inside the seeds are commonly compared to macadamia nut. Climate subtropical (the best-known species) or tropical (a separate and lesser known species) 8. Melon The melon (canteloupe, muskmelon; Cucumis melo, Cucurbitaceae) is one of the two African fruits that are known around the world. All the warmer regions produce it, of course, and millions enjoy a melon for breakfast, lunch, or dessert. Today’s melons are based almost entirely on seeds carried out of Africa, probably on the backs of camels northward across the Sahara in the time of the Pharaohs. While today India, Japan, and many other countries have greatly improved, locally selected varieties, the full wealth of the species’ diversity was not only left behind, it was forgotten, and remains to this day largely untapped. Who knows what kinds of 21st century melons can be developed by finally utilizing the “lost” half of this fruit’s heritage? Climate most climates 9. Tamarind Throughout the tropics tamarind (Tamarindus indica, Leguminosae) provides an attractive backdrop to roadsides, fields, and markets from the East Indies to the West Indies. And everywhere it grows, people enjoy the shade cast by its feathery foliage, not to mention the curiously sweet-sour pulp found inside its brittle, gray-brown pods. What is not widely known is that tamarind is actually from western African. The original wild version, a common savanna tree, can be found over an area stretching from the Atlantic seaboard to the verge of Central Africa’s rainforests and east. Senegal’s capital is actually named for this tree, which in the local Wolof language is called “dakar.” Despite its current spread, this species is far from fully exploited, and it could become an even greater tree in the tropics, notably including countries within the boundaries of its own home continent. Climate dry savannas and monsoonal regions

OCR for page 1
LOST CROPS OF AFRICA 6 10. Watermelon Other than botanists, few people consider that watermelon (Citrullus lanatus, Cucurbitaceae) is indeed African. Yet this crop’s wild ancestors are scattered abundantly across the dry wastes of the continent’s semi-arid southern hinterland. The ancestral genes to be found in the wild and tended watermelons bespeckling millions of hectares in countries such as Botswana and Namibia seem likely to provide the genetic means for creating new varieties, new seed foods, new pickles, and new types of watermelon fruits with unusual colors, shapes, sizes, and flavors. It is entirely possible that genes from Africa’s wild types could soon spark a watermelon rebirth worldwide. Climate warm-temperate to tropical

OCR for page 1
TABLE 1: POTENTIAL ROLES FOR SELECTED CULTIVATED AFRICAN FRUITS PRIMARY OCCURRENCE *** = Outstanding; Food Rural Sustainable ** = Notable; Central Southern Overall Nutrition Security Development Landcare * = Average Africa Africa West Africa East Africa Balanites *** *** *** ** *** √ Baobab *** *** *** *** *** √ √ √ Butterfruit *** *** *** *** *** √ √ Carissa ** ** * ** ** √ Horned Melon * * * * * √ √ Kei Apple ** * * * ** √ Marula *** *** *** *** *** √ √ √ √ Melon ** * * ** * √ √ Tamarind *** *** *** *** *** √ √ √ √ Watermelon ** * * ** * √ √ √ NB: The underlying justifications for these broad rankings are discussed in the following sections on Nutrition, Food Security, Rural Development, and Sustainable Landcare; greater detail is provided in the separate chapters on individual crops.

OCR for page 1
LOST CROPS OF AFRICA 8 POTENTIAL ROLES FOR SELECTED CULTIVATED AFRICAN FRUITS To give some idea of the potential of these fruits to help solve the great central issues of African economic, health, and environmental development, we now summarize the above-mentioned fruits’ likely relevance to four of Africa’s biggest needs for human survival and social serenity: 1) nutrition, 2) food security, 3) rural prosperity, and 4) general landcare. OVERCOMING MALNUTRITION Although pertinent nutritive information is often poorly available, it can be anticipated that all African fruits are useful sources of nutrients, particularly vitamin C. Indeed, a study of local fruits harvested and consumed in West Africa, particularly Senegal, suggests that they alone can meet year-round vitamin C needs. Of the 29 fruits analyzed, 11 had vitamin C contents higher than 20 mg per 100 g. Many may also be good sources of beta-carotene (provitamin A), usually revealed by a yellow coloration. Fruits also provide necessary minerals. The often-substantial contents of calcium, phosphorus, potassium, and sometimes iron are of special value to children whose growing bodies desperately need these elements to build teeth, blood, muscle, bone, and brain. Many fruits also provide magnesium, an element critical for cellular metabolism, protein digestion, and proper functioning of the nervous system. Furthermore, fruits rank high on the recommended-food charts because they provide dietary fiber. Numerous studies indicate that dietary intake of fiber reduces serum cholesterol and is perhaps associated with several other health benefits. And in the continent’s many dry zones fruits, are valued for providing water in a pure form. A melon, for example, makes a valued thirst quencher—not to mention natural survival kit—for people crossing deserts or working in hot fields. Finally, it can be said that fruits are beneficial not only for what they provide but for what they don’t. They contribute, for instance, no cholesterol and typically have only tiny amounts of fat. Below is a summary of the merits of the fruits highlighted in this section, specifically in terms of fighting malnutrition. Balanites (desert date, lalob) Children like the sugary balanites fruits, and throughout the species’ range these are widely consumed by the young. This makes it a key to malnutrition reduction in the vast, parched, and perilous arid zone where few other useful plant species exist. The pulp contains carbohydrate (notably

OCR for page 1
INTRODUCTION 9 sugars), protein, a smidgen of fat, and undoubtedly notable levels of vitamins and minerals. In addition, the seed kernel is rich in both an oil of the desirable unsaturated type and a protein whose amino-acid quality almost matches that in peanut. The pulp and seeds, separately or together, are thus excellent dietary means for assisting the malnourished, both young and not so young. Baobab Nutritionally speaking, the strange chalky powder from a baobab fruit can be considered nature’s gift to natural food fortification. The dry, soluble flour provides a simple way to add protein, carbohydrate, energy, fiber, provitamin A, vitamin C, several B vitamins, calcium, phosphorus, and iron to other foods even in remote areas where delivering those by other means is difficult. Moreover the protein has an excellent amino-acid profile, including good quantities of such essential vegetative rarities as lysine, methionine, cystine, and tryptophan. At least in principle, this seems like a readily available homegrown means for reducing malnutrition on a long-term and large-scale throughout much of Africa. Butterfruit (safou, bush mango) Packing a combination of protein and energy, butterfruit pulp is promising for reducing Africa’s worst humanitarian problem, protein-calorie malnutrition in children. Although presently unreported in nutrition programs, it might prove a lifesaver for children, nursing mothers, and the desperately malnourished. Its protein contains levels of essential amino acids similar to those found in eggs, milk, and meat. Moreover, the oil making up roughly half the pulp is composed mainly of desirable unsaturated fatty acids. And beyond protein and edible oil, this fruit provides an array of minerals such as potassium, calcium, and magnesium. Clearly, this fruit possesses the nutrient power to counteract what is currently the most common form of malnutrition. Carissa Although generally eaten for pleasure rather than health, carissa nevertheless packs some nutritional wallop. Indeed, it contains somewhat more vitamin C than the average orange and enough calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium to designate it a fine source of minerals. The red pulp looks and tastes so good it is often added to sick-people’s foods to entice them into downing pasty-colored porridges. The fruits are also dropped into water bottles and gourds to liven up the liquid contents. For these and other features carissa could be a good delivery system for the very nutrients everyone needs and not everyone gets.

OCR for page 1
LOST CROPS OF AFRICA 10 Horned Melon The nutritional value of the horned melon’s flesh is low, and the seeds are poorly known. The fruit seems unlikely in its present form to make a major dietary contribution against malnutrition. Kei Apple Kei apples are highly acidic for the simple reason they have more vitamin C than oranges. Beyond that, little of their food value is known. This fruit’s value in nutrition programs is certain to be good but not necessarily good enough to warrant special effort on those grounds alone. Marula Although an important source of several nutrients, marula fruit stands out for its vitamin C. In this regard, the flesh commonly surpasses orange, grapefruit, and lemon. Add to that macadamia-like nuts, possessing protein, an edible oil ranked with the elites, and minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus, and you have a nutritional powerhouse borne by a widespread plant seemingly created for today’s needs. Melon Dietarily speaking, most people consider melon a sugary nothing. But it provides potassium, vitamin C, and almost as much provitamin A as mango. Tamarind Tamarind pulp is a good source of the B vitamins thiamin, niacin, and riboflavin as well as phosphorus, potassium, and calcium (whose content is reportedly the highest found in any fruit). There are claims that tamarinds are also high in iron, which could make them useful anemia preventatives. The fact that kids love sucking on these not-so-pretty fruits means this long- lived and highly adaptable tree could be a significant nutrition-delivery tool. Plant tamarinds beside the tracks to school and you’ll likely feed generations of children and, in addition, leave a legacy of shade for the society and soothing scenery for the ages. Watermelon Although no one eats watermelon for medicinal purposes, the contents of carotenoids—especially beta-carotene and lycopene—are substantial. Watermelon also is a significant source of vitamin C and fiber. As for minerals, the fruit supplies potassium and is at the same time very low in sodium. It also provides a safe liquid refreshment for washing down a meal.

OCR for page 1
INTRODUCTION 11 BOOSTING FOOD SECURITY The words “food security” signify the concept of access to sufficient food all the time. The principle is as important as ever because all-too-often a steady supply is thwarted, not just by poverty but by conflict or natural events. So it is for good reason that societies rely most heavily on staples, whose dry skins and starchy hearts make them easy to ship, sell, and store. This “always-ready” keeping quality supports everyone’s continuing need for food. However, when supplies of staples get shaky, people naturally turn to the wider variety of edibles around them. And many of these are fruits that grow on trees. It may come as a surprise that Africa’s native fruits can help hungry stomachs fight back. Though we rightly think of fruits as having nutritional punch, many also pack proteins and carbohydrates. Such combinations have often staved off starvation until staple supplies could stabilize. Below, we summarize the merits of the fruits highlighted in the book, specifically in terms of food security. Balanites (desert date, lalob) Balanites produces a wealth of resources where other plant life barely survives. A plunging taproot makes it drought resistant, thick bark helps it survive the ubiquitous grass fires. It also tolerates inundation, wind, sandstorms, shallow and compacted clays, salt spray, soil salinity, and termites. It would thus seem to make an ideal security shield for the food supply in an area where such hazards all too often decimate other food resources. And it is not just the fruits and seeds that save lives. In times of extreme famine, the flowers, leaves, and even bark become sustenance for people. Moreover, the seeds are so popular as animal feed they underpin livestock production in dry places and in droughty seasons when even goat and camel husbandry operates at their outermost limits. Baobab Perhaps this fruit’s most vital humanitarian use is in feeding those who cannot buy their way out of starvation during the hungry times. For this purpose, the pulp of baobab fruit is beaten into thin pancakes, which on exposure to the sun dry into hard, brown disks. Despite the disconcerting look of leather, these are immensely valuable in that they can be stacked up like dinner plates and stored away in a corner for months or even years. Poor people in a dozen countries rely on this reserve during droughts or other disasters when neither gardens nor markets yield adequate provender. And during famine times they also rely on baobab seed, a compact package of energy, protein, and micronutrients. This strange tree even supplies water to the thirsty. At the height of the rainy season villagers in parts of Africa prize

OCR for page 1
LOST CROPS OF AFRICA 12 open a bunghole in the bark and fill the hollow interior with water. Thanks to natural preservatives, the water stays potable, and during the subsequent rainless months it saves lives. Butterfruit (safou, bush mango) This species seems likely to provide a superb means for ensuring food remains on hand during difficult times. Even now, the trees exist in countless villages and contribute to mass welfare in some of the hottest, most humid, and harshest of all agro-climates. By helping people survive the annual hungry season—the time when the old crop is gone and the new one is still growing—butterfruits provide the most basic kind of life insurance. Carissa Although in South Africa carissa hedges provide generations of kids the micronutrients they need, for the rest of Africa the fruit seems to have little food-security merit, at present. Horned Melon Of all the world’s fruits, perhaps none has a better shelf life than horned melon, which can remain edible for 6 months even in the tropics. On the other hand, this peculiar fruit can be a challenge to store. Its spikes can stab neighboring fruits, opening them up to decay and ruin in days. They also contain little food energy. Overall, we see no particular Africa-wide food- security use for horned melon without further nutritional development. Kei Apple This robust, tolerant shrub can produce fruit during times of climatic stress. However, as of now it is neither widely known nor widely loved, and seems to possess little particular food-security significance for the continent at large. Marula Unquestionably, this great and treasured species has the potential to help build a line of defense against dietary insecurity. Marula provides food during the season when grain stocks have run low and other crops have yet to attain an edible state. Also, its nuts store so well they provide nutritious sustenance long after all else is gone. Throughout the plant’s range, and especially where cereal crops are unreliable, villagers pile up marula seeds for food emergencies. Because of their fine taste, marula nuts are deemed a delicacy, but their fat, protein, and mineral contents make them a crucial food supplement during periodic drought or the annual hungry season.

OCR for page 1
INTRODUCTION 13 Melon In practical terms, there seems no particular food-security merit inherent in the ephemeral melon, which produces its flesh during the seasons of plenty; the seeds of certain types, however, have served as long-lasting provender in the past. Tamarind Although its may appear to be quite a minor food crop, tamarind has been called a tree of life because its fruits can be stored away without refrigeration and safely served weeks or months later. They become especially important during the dry season when fresh foods are scarce or nonexistent. Fulani nomads, for example, preserve tamarind pulp in the form of sun-dried cakes, which provide sustenance while they traverse the Saharan sands. This is a simple procedure that perhaps millions throughout Africa could exploit for food-security benefit. Watermelon In Africa’s southern deserts the undomesticated and casually cultivated watermelons are an important source of both food and water. In times of drought African farmers have traditionally relied on them for emergency use. Sometimes wild fruits scattered across the desert become the sole source of moisture for their cattle—and even for themselves—for months on end. Moreover, people also pile the fruits up near their dwellings as a convenient cache of food and water. These ancestral watermelons remain edible and “potable” a surprisingly long time—up to a year has been recorded for some types.

OCR for page 1
LOST CROPS OF AFRICA 14 FOSTERING RURAL DEVELOPMENT For purposes of relieving rural poverty, fruits are powerful tools. They bring relatively high prices, can be produced efficiently on a small scale, and are among the poor’s few natural treasures. For some rural Africans, there is perhaps no better way for achieving a modest income than through the production and marketing of fruits and fruit products. Many species are already grown at home and sold nearby; children also collect fruits to sell within their village. Nevertheless, supplies now reaching the cities mostly fall far below what could (or should) be marketed, and fruit consumption remains low throughout the continent, averaging less than half the amount eaten by Europeans and North Americans, for example—and far lesser amounts among the neediest. For farmers, as for anyone with access to land, fruits provide an easy entry into the world of commerce as well as into at least the prospect of a reliable livelihood. The food and beverage industry searches constantly for new flavors, so Africa’s fruits offer an opportunity that should be taken advantage of...perhaps comparable to cacao (chocolate), of which smallholders are often the major producers. Fruit-based foods and drinks can emerge from small processing factories—most likely situated close to the growing region (because of the costs of transportation and the likelihood of spoilage). Products might include juice, juice concentrate, puree, paste, dried fruit, canned products, and so forth. Successful fruit crops can also bring broad benefits by creating a ripple effect on the economy, raising the standard of living, keeping enterprising youth from fleeing the farm for the cities that beckon so insistently, and raising the tax revenues that result from general commerce. Below we summarize the merits of each of the 10 cultivated fruits highlighted in this book’s first section, specifically as they relate to rural development. Balanites (desert date, lalob) The middle of the Sahara is not the place to expect to reap profits on any grand scale. However, balanites could provide the basis for small industries that are otherwise inconceivable in the terrain where it grows. The seeds supply a quality vegetable oil that is a prized ingredient in foods as well as in local cosmetics. They also supply a raw material from which certain pharmaceuticals can be derived. In addition, the wood may be of small diameter, but it is highly prized for cooking because it burns almost without smoke. And, although outside the scope of this study, most parts of the plant are considered to possess various medicinal properties.

OCR for page 1
INTRODUCTION 15 Baobab Possibly, there is no better long-term answer more basic or more beneficial to meager rural lives than this ancient food resource. Baobab fruits even now help underpin rural commerce. Each day in West Africa, for example, they leave the countryside by the truckload, bound for the urban markets and for conversion into a popular drink sold in roadside stands as well as supermarkets in countries as far apart as Kenya and Mali. Such markets also proudly display sweets crafted from baobab pulp. Children commonly peddle these colorful candies to the public, and many an entrepreneur began her career selling baobab treats to friends and passersby for pocket money. Butterfruit (safou, bush mango) Butterfruit, too, is already a cash crop. Its fruits pour into cities and rural markets in considerable quantities. In the hot and humid zone stretching from Eastern Nigeria to Angola it is common to see women offering these fruits for sale. The tree is an excellent candidate for greater commerce. It has particular promise around the farm and the rural home because it provides so many useful byproducts—among which are forage for the animals, wood for cabinetmakers, and a scented resin that burns with a bright flame. There is also the promise of supplying industrial markets with oil. Both pulp and seeds contain large amounts of a vegetable oil whose qualities make it highly saleable for cooking and cosmetics. Although this oil is not now produced in any quantity, there are signs that larger scale production could be profitable. Carissa In South Africa carissa fruits are already commercial resources. Prized by one and all, they sell in considerable quantity in cities such as Durban. An added potential is probably to be found in processed products. Carissa jelly, made by straining or sieving the stewed, slightly under-ripe fruits and cooking them with sugar, is considered among the finest in Africa. It is now gaining aficionados in California and Florida as well. A boiled sauce, whose tang is reminiscent of the cranberry sauce beloved by Americans, is sometimes prepared. If cranberry can make it into the realm of commerce, carissa can too. Indeed, some carissa devotees wouldn’t serve anything else. Horned Melon At first sight this would seem the least likely resource for rural development. The fruit seems uncommonly undesirable. Yet when New Zealand shipped the fruits to Japan in 1984 they sold readily and aroused intense curiosity. They were soon also exporting them to the United States,

OCR for page 1
LOST CROPS OF AFRICA 16 and now horned melon is grown in many countries. Both Kenya and Israel export them to Europe and, nowadays, they are also transported by the container load across the Pacific. While such efforts demand considerable technology, making this seem a case where a lowly crop has a future only as a high-tech export, others believe horned melon may well serve as both a fruit and a vegetable that finds ready local markets as well. Kei Apple In the past, the sourness of even the ripest kei apple seemed a barrier to the crop’s wider acceptance. But in today’s markets, fruits need not be sweet to be successful. Cranberry, as we’ve said, is bitingly sour and is increasingly used for that very reason. Kei apple gives a bite (and color) to drinks, candies, jelly desserts, and many other food products. Marula This seems an excellent vehicle for rural development. Considerable demand already exists for both the fruits and the nuts. In Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, and South Africa, a rising number of operations are being established to process marula fruit, some handling over 1,000 tons a season. The pulp is appearing in mainstream commerce in the form of juices, jams, jellies, puree, and liqueur. Oils are being extracted from the nuts and put into pricey products for the skin, a process pioneered in Namibia, which now exports marula oil for this purpose. Processing marula materials can offer help for some of society’s most needy. Shelling the nuts, for instance, provides work for thousands of rural women who have hardly any other source of income. Melon Melons are reasonably priced and some have been bred with rinds robust enough to handle overseas travel. The scope and complexity of flavors, sizes, flesh colors, and textures makes melon one of the most interesting fruits. And it is more popular than most people think. In the United States, for example, melons are second only to bananas as the most-consumed fresh fruit per person. Moreover, melon could have a far greater future in commerce, especially given all the biodiversity still untapped in the vastness of Africa. There may also be markets for its seed as well. This is not a new idea: Sudan once exported tons of “senat” seeds annually, with only cotton, sorghum, and sesame earning more revenue some years. Tamarind This species has promise for boosting rural development in most parts of the tropics. The pulp is a versatile food that can be mixed into the myriad

OCR for page 1
INTRODUCTION 17 different sauces and drinks favored in the equatorial lands. Its tang especially blends with the fire of chilies, a marriage lending many tropical dishes their distinctively tart, sweetly biting savor. Certain African countries have been advancing this as a commercial resource. In Mali and Burkina Faso, for example, tamarind-based drinks (both fresh and carbonated) rival world-famous soft drinks in popularity. And the locally produced tamarind- syrup concentrate is said to outsell the fancy fruit syrups France exports to Mali. The country is itself exporting tamarind syrups to Europe, where they are sold on the streets (not to mention the bars) of Paris and Rome. Watermelon Watermelon fruits are generally easy to grow and easy to sell. They would seem to offer prospects for rural development anywhere they can be cultivated. The seeds are also saleable. West Africa already exports them to France for snack food. Sudan does too. (These seeds, which commonly go by the name egusi, are dealt with in detail in Chapter 8 of the companion volume on Africa’s vegetables.)

OCR for page 1
LOST CROPS OF AFRICA 18 SUSTAINABLE LANDCARE Trees and shrubs that yield edible products could be a key to establishing environmental stability from the Sahara to South Africa. They incorporate the very essence of sustainable agriculture. Seen in this light, fruit trees are among the most promising tools for securing agricultural systems that are both long lasting and gentle on the land. Benefits from growing fruit crops— especially perennial ones—include: • Lessening soil erosion. The trees’ roots and surface debris help reduce loss of topsoil and runoff, thereby maintaining soil fertility and slowing siltation of rivers, dams, irrigation systems, and other waterways. • Lowering soil temperatures. Dense foliage absorbs about two-thirds of the sun’s rays, while reflecting and transmitting the remainder, so that within the tree-shaded microclimate temperatures are lower, the light less damaging, and the site more stable and sustainable. • Increasing organic matter in the soil. Leaf litter and decay add to the nutrients, tilth, stability, and productivity of the land. • Breaking the wind. The physical presence of a cluster or even a scattering of trees reduces soil loss and improves the microclimate for other growing plants for the simple reason that wind is broken up so it is less likely to desiccate or disturb the soil. • Supporting beekeeping. Fruit trees are, generally speaking, good sources of nectar and pollen. Their very presence therefore can produce income from honey, wax, and related beehive products. Honey also makes a good dietary-energy supplement, especially where foods are bland or the diets short on food energy. • Reforesting the land. Tropical fruit trees are an element in reforestation that has been largely overlooked. The fact is that people everywhere like fruit trees, and will plant them and protect them because the trees generate blossoms, food, and funds. This is especially important for the future of Africa, where this interest could be the key to persuading the populace to plant trees. • Earning carbon credits. For purposes of “global cooling,” what could be better than trees that feed the hungry as well as provide all the benefits mentioned above? Fruit trees (together with the soil beneath them) are long- lived carbon sinks that local people respect and protect for generations. Summarized below are some likely contributions of Africa’s cultivated fruits to sustainable landcare. Balanites (desert date, lalob) Balanites offers ways to help address pressing environmental problems in perhaps the most drought-afflicted area on earth. Beyond the humanitarian benefits deriving from its fruits and seeds, balanites could help overcome

OCR for page 1
INTRODUCTION 19 desertification, avoid soil erosion, and reduce the land destruction caused by cattle. The living trees themselves provide shade from the burning sun, shelter from the hot winds, and relief from the never-ending starkness of the desert all around. All in all, it helps stabilize both human life and the natural environment in these severely challenged regions. Baobab The tree may be tricky to plant, slow to mature, and susceptible to grazing, but once established it is nearly indestructible. The trunk soaks in water like a sponge, making it resistant to the grassfires afflicting the savannas each summer. Once past its juvenile susceptibilities, a baobab provides its multiple environmental benefits to successive generations. Butterfruit (safou, bush mango) In agroforestry and landcare, this versatile species also has promise. It is often seen scattered in riverbeds, across hillsides, and along the boulevards. Possibly it has potential in plantation forestry. The timber, although small in diameter and short in length, can substitute for mahogany. Its woodworking qualities and interesting appearance suit it to veneers and fine cabinetry. Carissa Various types of this bush are used for property boundaries, screens, ground covers, landscaping accents, barriers against intruders (two legged and four legged), or container plants. Carissa is also espaliered against a sunny wall or pruned into small trees to beautify a backyard. Few plants are more decorative, tough, or adaptable. The clean and shiny look of the stiff, bottle green leaves makes the shrubs handsome year-round, and the fragrant flowers and crimson fruits lend added beauty. Horned Melon In this species, we see no particular value for long-term protection of Africa’s soil and environment, though we could be proved wrong. Interestingly, the vines wither at the end of the rains, but the fruits continue to ripen and persist long into the dry season, often serving as a water source. Kei Apple This tough shrub does well in almost any soil, including limestone. It is extremely drought resistant and tolerates salinity and even ocean spray. For this reason, for example, it is used as a windbreak or ornamental in coastal California. Its long sharp thorns deter both people and animals. It is commonly seen in hedges and it has been formed into rough rural corrals in southern and eastern Africa. In some climates the untrained plant takes on a

OCR for page 1
LOST CROPS OF AFRICA 20 rather scraggly appearance, but it still makes an excellent hedge. Being evergreen, it provides a year-round screen. Marula A fully grown marula tree is large and spreading. People genuinely like it for its shade and beauty, not to mention having the fruits to eat. When farmers clear land, these trees are often all that is left standing. Marula thrives under exceptional heat. And it tolerates some of the most inhospitable terrain known to horticulture. Its value for environmental improvement could be outstanding. Melon Melon may offer no particular landcare virtues except as a seasonal groundcover, also containing minerals the deep roots pull to the surface. Tamarind The living tree is especially promising for restoring deforested and damaged lands to health and productivity. It is already used in anti- desertification programs because it grows in arid and other challenging sites, and it resists savanna groundfires. Rows are also planted among forest trees as firebreaks. Tamarinds probably have notable value for sequestering carbon because people hate cutting them own, and they are so tough they typically grow for centuries. Thanks to a deep and extensive root system, they are little affected by typhoons and cyclones. They withstand city smog and coastal salt air. A dense crown of drooping branches bearing feathery foliage makes this evergreen outstanding for beautifying parks, backyards, boulevards, markets, country roads, and the rest. For these reasons and more, it holds much promise in African reforestation, especially for plantings in places where people live, work, congregate, and revere good shade. Watermelon Like its cousin, the melon, it seems to offer no particular long-term landcare benefits or hazards, though its watery fruit in the wild can provide moisture to grazing wildlife long into the thirsty season, thus sustaining the animals that shape entire landscapes. * * * The above summaries have highlighted the benefits that may accrue from a broader appreciation for Africa’s cultivated fruits. The abstracts were drawn from the detailed chapters that follow, where information is also offered on obstacles to fruition (few of which seem insurmountable).