For all its importance as a food, this tree produces more than just beans. Indeed, it is one of the most versatile of all woody species. It supplies lumber for construction, poles for fencing, and wood for fuel. Its nitrogen-rich leaves are fed to animals and are used to mulch the garden. Its edible young flowers are used to decorate and season foods. And, although basul is mostly grown for home consumption, it is used as a cash crop as well—the pods being exchanged among families or sold in markets.
The living trees are also important themselves. Basul is one of the easiest trees to grow. Sections of stem—even large ones—take root readily and become living and long-lasting fence posts. A basul hedge requires little care and, once established, can live for decades. The tree can also be used for shading coffee, cocoa, and other sun-sensitive crops. Vines—such as pepper, betel, and grape—get double benefit because they also use the tree trunks as supports. As a leguminous tree, it supplies nitrogen that fertilizes the soil around it. Because of this it is sometimes called a “nurse tree.”
Despite its extreme versatility, basul is so far little known outside the Andes. But—with the desperate need of developing countries for food, forage, firewood, paper, other wood products, reforestation, and erosion control—it is worth much more recognition than it now receives.
The Andes. Agronomic research aimed at regularizing the production of basul would greatly enhance its commercial use and might elevate it to one of the most prevalent and useful trees among the region's rural populations. Because of its “off-season” seed production, basul is potentially vital for health and survival in times of food scarcity. Owing to its robustness, it can be grown on unused patches of land as a source of “famine food,” “famine feed,” and other critical products. Given organized production it could also make some “wastelands” productive.
Other Developing Areas. Any crop that can be raised for home consumption to improve nutrition during times of scarcity is worthy of increased attention, not only in the Andes, but in other parts of the tropics as well. Versatile tree crops that yield food as well as other products are extremely useful in the lives of the rural poor, and offer important advantages to farmers in many developing countries.