Although nowadays such childhood experiences may seem old-fashioned in cities worldwide, they still pertain in vast rural areas of Africa. A surprising number of wild fruits contribute to countryside nutrition, and also to commerce, as seen in local markets. In Swaziland, for example, surveys found that people eat products from more than 220 species of wild plants; about half fruits.2 A similar audit in Cameroon identified over 300 trees whose fruits or seeds were eaten, including 200 forest species.3 In Uganda 105 wild fruits are recorded as still being used.4 Similar inventories are documented in enough places to make this a fair reflection of the norm.

Today, however, these wild resources are getting harder to find. Rummaging through the bush around a village may still be important but, taken all round, wild fruits are a vanishing breed. And no one is doing much to counter the trend because today’s overwhelming emphasis is on domesticated crops, especially staples. That choice is certainly understandable, but more thought needs to be given to fostering wild fruits and restoring their productive contributions to Africa.

This added priority is needed because times are rapidly changing. In the past, rural communities living near wild growth didn’t need to consider propagating these trees; nature satisfied their needs. Yet with dwindling tree cover, the useful species must be brought in from the wild or risk being lost entirely. Arguably, wild fruits comprise Africa’s most vulnerable food resource sector and, because of the pre-existing condition of scientific neglect, their shaky status will only worsen unless there is incisive intervention. Nudging nature even a little is often enough to tilt the balance in favor of a wild fruit establishing or persisting in lieu of scrub; research and its application can work wonders. This is why we devote the second half of this volume to the topic.

What could be done to rescue such historically vital contributors from neglect and possible extinction? First and foremost, wild fruits can be rescued from the widespread belief that they represent backwardness—that in a modern society, foraging is demeaning. Certainly, wild fruits are typically smaller, the pits larger, and the flavor more varied than in comparable cultivated fruits, but that does not mean they are unworthy. Publicity and education are needed to quash the common impression that wayside fruits are “simple,” “substandard,” “unfashionable” fare.

2

When the survey was made (at the beginning of the agricultural season, a time when food stores often are low) more than 50 species were contributing to the local diet each day. Antonsson-Ogle, B. 1990. Dietary use of wild plant resources in rural Switzerland. Pp. 895-910 in Proceedings of the Twelfth Plenary Meeting of AETFAT, Symposium VIII. Mitt. Inst. Allg. Bot., Hamburg.

3

Information from J. Vivien and J.J. Faure of Cameroon's Centre Universitaire de Dschang, which has established a native fruit tree arboretum containing 60 species.

4

Goode, P.M. 1989. Edible Plants of Uganda: The Value of Wild and Cultivated Plants as Food. Food and Nutrition Paper 42/1, FAO, Rome.



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