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.