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 40
Lost Crops of Africa: Fruits, Volume III
OCR for page 41
Lost Crops of Africa: Fruits, Volume III 2 BAOBAB Across much of Africa the baobab (Adansonia digitata) is a common sight. Wherever it grows people rely on it for food. Some count this tree’s leaves among their most valued vegetables. Others consider its fruits the finer food. And all rely on baobab seed for sustenance during famine times. This strange tree also provides drink. At the height of the rainy season, villagers commonly prize open a hole in the bark and fill the hollow interior with water (usually from a ditch dug at its base). During the subsequent dry months that tank-in-a-trunk becomes so valuable it is sometimes guarded day and night against parched passersby.1 Food and drink are just two of the baobab’s blessings. Others include shade, medicines, rope, and various raw materials that make everyday living possible. All in all, it can be said, and with a large measure of truth, that baobab is Africa’s Tree of Life. Probably the most distinctive plant of them all, baobab is unforgettable. The trunk often appears so grotesquely swollen as to suggest a giant brandy bottle. The crooked branches, affixed to the “cork,” look like squirming roots shooting skywards. That image is so immediately apparent that baobab is often called the “upside-down tree.” Few plants engender so much respect. Millions believe each tree receives divine power through those “roots” reaching toward heaven. Out of both regard and gratitude people maintain baobab near their houses. Indeed, baobab often seems like some vegetative pet that moves in wherever it finds a friendly family (which in a way it does—sprouting from seeds thrown out in household food wastes). Most baobab trees are individually owned or at least individually claimed for a season2 and many are passed down the generations like some valuable piece of property. A baobab commonly becomes part of the family, and its death proves as painful as that of a beloved friend. 1 On the other hand, in Mali and Burkina Faso it is common to see large clay jugs (canaries) carefully placed in the hollow of a baobab tree and kept full of water for the use of thirsty travelers. 2 Many are claimed by “squatters” who—partly to increase productivity, but mainly to secure their claim to the tree for the coming season—are the first to prune back branches.
OCR for page 42
Lost Crops of Africa: Fruits, Volume III Few trees on earth engender respect like baobab. Millions believe it receives divine power through the branches that look like arms stretching toward heaven. The baobab is entrenched in the folklore of much of Africa. This is partly because of its singular appearance but also because of the cures and the foods it provides. (Jerry Wright) This chapter deals specifically with the tree’s fruits, which are as unique as the tree itself.3 Sometimes reaching the size of melons, they have a furry coating and a tough, gourdlike shell. Cut one across and you expose an arrangement something like an orange, with angular packets of soft pulp surrounding a cluster of seeds.4 There, however, the similarity stops. Baobab fruit is the very antithesis of an orange: its pulp is dry when fully ripe. Often white, but also yellowish or pinkish in color, this so-called monkey bread is a mealy solid resembling something from a cereal. Indeed, a few hours in the sun easily converts it into a free-flowing flour. Nutritionally speaking, this strange chalky fruit-powder is like nature’s own fortified food. The label on a commercially packaged version now sold across Europe,5 records that 100 g of it provides protein (5 g), carbohydrate (30 g), energy (130 calories), and fiber. In terms of daily nutritional needs, 3 The leaves, which are perhaps the main baobab food Africawide, are dealt with in the companion volume on vegetables. 4 From this, at least according to one explanation, derives the Arabic name bu hibab (fruit with a lot of seeds) and from that in turn comes the English name baobab. 5 Baobab Fruit Company (www.baobabfruitco.com).
OCR for page 43
Lost Crops of Africa: Fruits, Volume III that same 100 g of dried baobab fruit pulp also supplies 25 percent of provitamin A, 500 percent vitamin C, 34 percent thiamine (B1), 17 percent riboflavin (B2), and 106 percent vitamin B6. As to mineral requirements, it provides 33 percent of the calcium, 26 percent of the phosphorus, and 50 percent of the iron needed each day. Considering that this is an unaltered, natural product from the heart of malnourished Africa, those are certainly thought-provoking figures. Moreover its protein has a spectacular amino-acid profile, including surprising quantities of such essential nutritional rarities as lysine (15g per 100g of the protein), methionine (5g), cystine (11g), and tryptophan (1.5g). Is it any wonder, then, that Europeans searching for good health are buying baobab fruit flour? With a gingerbread flavor enlivened by a high but not unpleasant level of acidity,6 monkey bread is not for every sweet tooth. However, it is notably refreshing, a feature especially appreciated in the desiccating climates where the tree occurs. Most commonly this soluble powder is stirred into warm water or milk to create a beverage. Each day in West Africa—Senegal, Gambia, and Burkina Faso, for instance—fruits are hauled into cities by the truckload for sale in the central markets and for eventual conversion into this refreshing thirst-quencher. Despite being a sort of poor-person’s soda, the drink is important in upscale commerce. One sees it on display, for instance, in supermarkets in countries as far apart as Kenya and Mali.7 Proudly displayed there too are baobab sweets. The fruit’s pulp is often boiled in sugar and brightened with food coloring to form candies. Children commonly peddle these among themselves; many a budding entrepreneur began her career in commerce selling baobab treats for pocket money. And sweets and drinks are just two of the fruit’s uses. The tart-tasting pulp helps to season the taste of bland foods. West African pastoralists—the Fulanis, for example—use it to acidify a yogurt-like material that is a major food. Known as nono, this yogurt/baobab combination is said to relax the nerves after a hard day tending the flock or the field. Millions consider this pick-me-up a necessary part of getting through the afternoons. Perhaps the fruit’s most vital use, however, is to provide food security to those who cannot buy their way out of hunger. For this purpose, the pulp is beaten into thin pancakes, which on exposure to the sun turn into dry disks. Despite a disconcerting appearance, these leathery circlets have an immense importance because they can be stacked up like dinner plates and stored away for months or even years. Poor people in a dozen countries rely on this shelf-stable reserve for sustenance during droughts or other disasters when neither gardens nor markets yield enough. Then, the brown baobab fruit- 6 This is due to the vitamin C level, which is widely touted as being at least 10-times that of orange. 7 More commonly, however, the pulp powder is sold rather than the drink itself.
OCR for page 44
Lost Crops of Africa: Fruits, Volume III leather is normally boiled up to create a tasty fruity food whose nutritional balance serves to keep the scales of life and death from tipping beyond hope. And this fruit holds yet more eatables. Embedded in the pulp packets are the clusters of seeds, whose kernels taste like almonds and are rich in both protein and food energy. Although difficult to get at, owing to the seed’s thick shell, the kernels are valued foods—consumed fresh, fermented,8 or roasted like peanuts. In each case the resulting products are typically boiled into a thin gruel with sorghum or pearl millet and drunk like chicken broth or barley water. With their protein, calories, and micronutrients, they add notable nourishment to the daily diet. Considering that it is perhaps Africa’s best-loved tree, baobab is surprisingly neglected by development programs. Until recently, the species was excluded from almost anything dealing with reforestation, agriculture, nutrition, or rural-poverty. Such neglect was not without reason. For one thing, the sight of the bulging trunk and spongy wood makes old-line foresters shudder. For another, the tree is reputedly difficult to grow; the seedlings being both slow to establish and vulnerable to herbivores. And for a third, local people sometimes resist planting baobabs, which they perceive as being “backward” or, worse, possibly attracting bad spirits.9 Nonetheless, in many villages young baobab trees are these days often transplanted to a convenient location and then carefully protected from roaming animals. And today the species is finally being included in at least some rural-development programs. Several Sahelian nations are formally producing the seedlings in nurseries and planting them in villages.10 Although these enterprises are tiny in the context of the overall food needs, most people, including even timber-minded foresters, are at last coming to recognize this tree’s potential. This is clearly a beneficial change in outlook. Nevertheless, the species has far greater promise than is presently recognized. Possibly, there is no better long-term answer more basic or more beneficial to meager rural lives than this ancient food resource. The tree may be tricky to plant, slow to mature, and susceptible to grazing, but once established it becomes nearly 8 This is done especially in parts of West Africa, where baobab seeds are often handled like those from locust trees, whose seeds are turned into the famous cheesy fermented solid known as dawadawa (see companion volume on vegetables). 9 Owing to ancient traditions, there are some localized taboos against planting the tree. 10 Niger in particular seems to have taken up the cause. Several contributors from there have pointed this out. “We have raised, planted and distributed baobab since 1965,” wrote one. “In several of our village forestry efforts, people asked for baobab along with the other trees,” wrote another. “In Gaya, we have planted baobabs since the early 1970s,” wrote a third. Clearly the interest in planting baobab is spreading: “In recent trips through Mali and Burkina Faso, I saw a surprising number of young baobab in small kitchen gardens adjoining family homesteads,” wrote yet a fourth.
OCR for page 45
Lost Crops of Africa: Fruits, Volume III indestructible.11 The trunk holds water like a sponge, and it resists drought as well as the dry-season grassfires afflicting the savannas each summer. And a low center of gravity combined with widely spreading roots help mature trees withstand the wrath of storms. Once past its juvenile susceptibilities, a baobab can provide its multifarious benefits for generations to come. The Chinese say that, “it is a wise man whose grandfather planted trees,” but to plant a baobab is to touch not just the grandchildren but history itself. PROSPECTS Baobab can contribute uniquely to Africans—and especially to the rural poor. Through selecting, propagating, planting, and creating more production as well as through better organizing the mass-markets and processing the fruit on an industrial scale, there is potential for reducing hunger and rural poverty in some of the earth’s most difficult-to-feed locations. There is also great promise for establishing “life-insurance plantings” that provide essentially permanent food security for a village, a valley, or a vast region. There is even the possibility of generating worldwide exports in baobab fruit pulp, thereby introducing this ancient food to all mankind. Given concerted action now, the prospects of all these occurring within the next 20 years seem high.12 Within Africa Humid Areas Uncertain prospects. As a rainforest resource, this dryland tree seems hardly promising. However, one report notes that specimens receiving up to 1,250 mm annual rainfall grew almost twice as fast as those planted at the same time in nearby dry areas. Also, notable are the baobabs growing with vigor in humid forests along the Kenyan coast, where rainfall ranges from 1,500 to 2,000 mm.13 In Mozambique the tree thrives in swamp forests, although there it turns tall and slender, making it appear embarrassingly svelte. 11 This longevity is not guaranteed in the presence of elephants, which dote on the fruits and bark and sometimes shred the trunks to access the water inside. This is a problem only in southern and eastern Africa. Elsewhere, there are no elephants. 12 A monograph on the tree, and its potential, is available online via www.icuc-iwmi.org: Sidibe, M. and J.T. Williams. 2002. Baobab (Adansonia digitata L). Fruits for the Future 4. International Centre for Underutilised Crops, Southampton, UK. 13 These trees produce pinkish colored fruits twice the size of those produced in the hinterland. The leaves are larger, too.
OCR for page 46
Lost Crops of Africa: Fruits, Volume III Baobab fruits sometimes attain the size of melons, with their tough shells enclosing angular packets of a strange pulp that is nearly solid. Indeed, a few hours in the sun dries the sticky semisolid into a free-flowing, soluble powder that has a gingerbread flavor as well as a pleasant acid bite. It is nutritious enough to be stirred into warm water or milk to create a health drink. The fruit also contains nuts that taste like almonds. Although difficult to get at (owing to the thick shell) the nuts are valued foodstuffs, eaten fresh, fermented, or roasted like peanuts. They are rich in both food energy and quality protein. (Kazuo Yamasaki) Dry Areas Excellent prospects. The baobab occurs mainly in savannas. It is not only the biggest tree in the Sahel but arguably the most beloved. Some people have even dubbed it “Mother of the Sahel.” Upland Areas Unknown prospects. The baobab normally occurs below 600 m elevation, but it seems likely that—within the species’ outermost temperature- and rainfall tolerances—altitude may be no limit. Beyond Africa Although it grows satisfactorily in lands beyond Africa (most famously northern Australia), baobab seems unlikely to become a significant resource in locations where it is now unemployed.
OCR for page 47
Lost Crops of Africa: Fruits, Volume III USES A species like this is certainly hard to categorize in a few sentences. Its more than 30 different products and uses include the following. Fruits The chalky solid from the gourdlike fruits is consumed in many different ways, however by far the greatest amount is eaten with porridge and/or milk. When employed as part of a hot dish the powdery pulp is often stirred in after the final stage of cooking, thereby preserving the vitamins. In some places, people merely break off a piece of the fruit’s outer shell, add water, stir the contents, pour out the resulting solution, and boil it into a tasty and nutritious beverage. The pulp is so acidic it can substitute for baking powder or cream of tartar—in curdling milk, for example. It is also used to make glue for paper. Seeds The kernels are eaten raw and, as noted earlier, are also fermented and roasted. In each case they are typically boiled with cereal grains to form a thick porridge, thin gruel, or watery drink. During food emergencies these kernels (like the surrounding pulp) become a life-saving staple, both because they store well and because they are exceptionally rich in protein, food energy, and micronutrients. Flowers Although pollinated by fruit bats, the flowers are also a favorite nectar source for bees. Leaves Fresh baobab leaves provide an edible vegetable similar to spinach. Today, this is the tree’s most important food use. In the companion volume on African vegetables we have devoted a whole chapter to this use. Trunks By nature, baobab is a trunk-succulent, meaning that its wood typically remains damp. As already noted, people in the drier parts of Africa employ their baobabs as water reservoirs. The trunk may be naturally hollow, but more often the inner tissues are deliberately scooped out. The space within can be huge: As much as 10,000 liters of water has been stored in a single stem. Baobab trunks are also occasionally used for dwellings, storage sheds, bus stops, bars, dairies, toilets, watchtowers, grain stores, shelters, stables, or even tombs. Roots A red dye can be extracted from the roots. Environmental Relief Baobabs are sometimes planted for shade, shelter, boundary-markers, or landscaping purposes. In the desiccated center of Mali, where the scenery is unrelieved by any notable permanent feature, they also serve as formal reference points (individual trees are marked, for instance, on the Institut Geographique’s National 1:200,000 maps). In the
OCR for page 48
Lost Crops of Africa: Fruits, Volume III season when the rains are expected the trees are eagerly watched, because Africa’s farmers understand that the greening of the baobab means planting time is at hand. Fiber In the full-grown tree, the bark is 10-15 cm thick, and the inner portion is composed of tough longitudinal fibers that are so flexible, strong, and durable that even in the era of nylon and steel they are used to make rope, clothing, fishing nets, rugs, mats, baskets, thread, and musical-instrument strings—not to mention paper tough enough for banknotes. The fibers can be woven into coarse fabrics, some of which are waterproof. Senegalese weavers, for example, produce rain hats and even drinking vessels out of them. In addition, the fibers are notable for making supple and extremely strong bags. Many a harvest moves from field to village and then on to market in a baobab bag. Although other tree species die when their bark is stripped off, baobabs not only survive, but quickly regenerate it. Wood As a timber, the soft and spongy wood quickly succumbs to rot. It is, in fact, spread over fields as mulch. Nonetheless, in Madagascar it is used to thatch roofs. Fuel The hard bark, the fibrous fruit husks, and the dense shells of the seeds all burn well. Even the corky trunk matter makes an excellent fuel when dried. It is used, for example, for baking large clay pots. Medicinals Regarding baobab’s therapeutic values there are many claims. The bark is widely used for treating chest complaints. Root extracts are applied against skin sores. The leaves are prescribed for stomach and lower-back pain, for kidney and bladder disease, for asthma, insect bites, and more. And the fruit pulp is said to be especially useful for treating diarrhea, something that—given its mineral content and food energy—seems likely to be perfectly valid. Other Senegalese horticulturists recently learned to bonsai the tree. The miniature, fat-bellied, squirmy-branched baobabs thus created might well prove popular as eye-catching novelties, even worldwide. NUTRITION As noted, this fruit is no succulent tropical delight. The raw pulp is about 90 percent dry matter, the exact reverse of expectations in a fruit. That dry matter is nutritionally not unlike that of a cereal or a rootcrop such as potato, comprising: about 80% carbohydrate, 10% fiber, 5% crude protein, and 0.2% fats. In samples from separate trees and locations the food-energy
OCR for page 49
Lost Crops of Africa: Fruits, Volume III levels have ranged from 200 to 350 calories per 100 g of dry weight.14 Given the near absence of fat, this energy must come mostly from carbohydrate, which is said to be rich in pectin and to also include glucose, other sugars, and mucilaginous matter. As already highlighted, the protein itself has a remarkable nutritional quality. Further, that protein occurs in a surprising amount for a fruit—as much as 5 percent has been measured—and it seems to have a high digestibility in the bargain. It is the levels of vitamins that distinguish this fruit flour from, say, wheat flour. The fruit pulp, as we have said, is remarkably high in vitamin C content. Individual trees with vitamin C content up to 500 mg per 100g have been found. The “norm,” however, is around 200 mg per 100g of pulp (or twice the amount in concentrated orange juice).15 The pulp is also rich in several of the B vitamins. Moreover, it apparently contains both free tartaric acid and its potassium salt. Indeed, several minerals have been measured in high levels, including (per 100g) phosphorus (100-200 mg), calcium (300 mg) and iron (7 mg).16 These are all exceptional figures also. The seed kernels represent a second, separate source of nutrients. Proximate analyses (dry-weight basis) indicate they can be up to a third crude protein and a third fat, with nearly 10 percent crude fiber.17 The “baobab nut” thus contains more protein than peanuts and its protein appears rich in lysine, methionine, cysteine, and tryptophan. Moreover, some kernels can contain more oil than soybeans, and that oil provides a fairly good measure of unsaturation; nearly 90 percent of the oil is oleic, palmitic, and linoleic acid in almost equal parts.18 HORTICULTURE Unless pretreated, seeds can take a year to germinate. Commonly, they are dunked in boiling water, usually for less than a minute but sometimes longer. Some, however, are scarified or carefully pierced (to let water in) and then soaked overnight. Sulfuric acid treatments may be most effective. 14 Respectively, Baobab Fruit Company (baobabfruitco.com), and Saka, J.D.K. and J.D. Msonthi. 1994. Nutritional value of edible fruits of indigenous wild trees in Malawi. Forest Ecology and Management 64:245-248. 15 Information from J. Scheuring. 16 Saka and Msonthi, 1994, op. cit., and Eromosele, I.C., C.O. Eromosele, and M. Kuzhkuzha. 1991. Evaluation of mineral elements and ascorbic acid contents in fruits of some wild plants. Plant Foods for Human Nutrition 41:151-154. 17 Arnold, T.H., M.J. Well, and A.S. Wehmeyer. 1985. Koisan food plants: taxa with potential for economic exploitation. Pp. 69-86 in Wickens, G.E., J.R. Goodin, and D.V. Field, eds., Plants for Arid Lands. Allen and Unwin, London. 18 Booth F.E.M. and G.E. Wickens. 1988. Non-timber uses of selected arid zone trees and shrubs in Africa. FAO Conservation Guide 19. FAO, Rome.
OCR for page 50
Lost Crops of Africa: Fruits, Volume III Once treated, most seeds germinate within three weeks. Horticultural handling methods are essentially unreported, but bare-root seedlings have been transplanted from nurseries with reasonable results. In addition, saplings more than a meter tall have been root-balled and transplanted to the field. The species is hardly known for speedy growth, but on favorable sites its seedlings have reached 2 m in height in 2 years and 12 m in 15 years. This is far above the norm, however, given that few baobabs are planted in favorable sites. No serious pests or major diseases are known. Young trees are susceptible to both wildfires and browsing by roaming herbivores (wild and domestic), but once their middle-age spread begins showing only elephants, lightning, or exceptional cyclones affect them. Severe pruning is sometimes used to maintain canopy size. Within reason, this does no particular harm, and in fact it probably stimulates greater leaf growth. However, annual pruning naturally does reduce the tree’s potential for fruit formation. HARVESTING AND HANDLING Villagers often punch foot-holes into the smooth trunk for easy access to the fruits above. Most, though, knock the fruits off from the ground using long poles. The fruits themselves are unusual in that they remain dangling during the dry season long after the tree sheds its leaves. They are also unusual in remaining edible far past the point where other fruits would have decayed into putrefaction. Stored under normal ambient conditions, they keep for up to 3 months, a feature especially important for hungry regions because they are still edible at times when other sustenance is hard to secure. The impervious rind and the dryness of the pulp are probably the major features behind this life-saving resistance to rot. Typically, however, the pulp is extracted and ground into powder within three months of the harvest. The sifted powder is often marketed in 100g quantities and sold in wrapped plastic bags. The dried pulp powder can be stored for long periods with little loss of vitamin C.19 LIMITATIONS The living baobab is not always a farmer’s friend. For one thing, it occupies a lot of room and throws a lot of shade. For another, its spreading shallow roots compete with nearby crops for nutrients and water.20 And it is an alternative (but relatively insignificant) host of insects that attack cotton. Although under ideal conditions the plant may be no laggard, slow 19 Information from J. Scheuring. 20 Perhaps for this reason, the areas around a baobab are often patchy or bare of vegetation. However, the bareness may also be due to shade as well as to the inevitable trampling by people and animals enjoying the shade.
OCR for page 51
Lost Crops of Africa: Fruits, Volume III growth is the rule rather than the exception. It matures late, too: Trees raised from seedlings take 8-10 years before commencing to fruit and about 30 years before achieving full abundance. Sadly, many baobabs are now killed by acts of mindless inadvertence. Saplings have slim stems and their own leaf form, so that few people recognize them for what they are. And, going unrecognized, they fall to the common fate of “open access resources”: indifference. Groundfires, goats, gazelles, and galoots stripping off too many leaves destroy the majority of baby baobabs. The absence of protection is a major constraint to the species’ further development. In some areas cultural values get in the way. Baobabs are subject to many taboos. In the Gambia, for instance, they are considered evil and villagers resist planting them. In addition, many people refuse (purely on principle) to plant any tree that regenerates itself spontaneously. NEXT STEPS This single species gets to the heart of so many vital African needs that the time has come to move ahead with vigor. Such a widespread people’s resource is worthy of pan-African cooperation in programs dealing with food, nutrition, agriculture, forestry, agroforestry, horticulture, rural development, home economics, and more. Baobab is already so useful that background research is not essential to progress. More pressing is the need to employ the knowledge and germplasm already on hand to mount planting, protection, and development programs that combine traditional knowledge with modern scientific understandings. These can be big or little, concentrated or dispersed, rural or suburban. The mass-markets, including those processing the fruit on an industrial scale, also need organizing. Progress may not be quick or easy— given the lack of precedent and the tree’s slow growth—but around baobab plantings whole rural-uplift programs can be built. In that regard, baobab is relevant to operations dealing with: Rural Poverty In the purely commercial sense, the tree is a prime candidate for developing farm and plantation products for marketing locally, regionally, and around the world. Hunger Monkey bread, with its balance of protein, energy, vitamins, and minerals, seems capable of improving the food supply (not to mention health) of many societies with little cost or change in daily habits. Malnutrition Programs focused on nutritional interventions should embrace or at least test baobab as a tool for achieving their goals. The various parts of this plant are not so different in nutritional power from the relief foods shipped in from factories far away. Yet they are locally
OCR for page 52
Lost Crops of Africa: Fruits, Volume III acceptable and locally produced. Kwashiorkor, marasmus, avitaminosis, rickets, scurvy, diarrhea, and maybe anemia are among the scourges likely to be relieved by this powdery fruit product. Food Security This species offers promise for establishing “life-insurance plantings” that provide essentially permanent food security. Deforestation Tree-planting programs throughout the vast semiarid and subhumid regions of Africa should at least consider planting baobab. The species is a prime candidate for self-motivated forestry and successful plantings will, as we have said, leave a resource for millennia. The tree is not for everyone or every site, but for all that its importance is universal. Balance of Payments Deficits For a continent short of foreign exchange, it is notable that baobab’s export potential could eventually be large. Already, some African nations trade its food products among themselves, something that could be both increased and extended outwards to other parts of the globe. Indeed, an export industry based on the all-natural, soluble powder with potent nutritional punch might be the best economic engine for leveraging the crop to new commercial heights. Employing an African product to improve nutrition in other parts of the world may seem like an irony, but among other things it will induce the production discipline, safety inspections, and quality controls to make baobab better for all Africa too. Economic Development Beyond fruit products, there are opportunities for successful commerce. To mention a few, there are the tree’s use for shade, shelter, water storage, boundary markers, beautification (both in landscapes and cosmetics), and even tourism.21 In this regard, the bark should not be overlooked. Its fiber may seem esoteric but within Africa it is a very important product.22 And it is a renewable one: Although often completely stripped, baobabs regenerate their bark with remarkable agility.23 Waterproof baobab hats, bags, and baskets might also well attract worldwide interest and international sales. 21 In Madagascar at least certain towns attract visitors from around the world to admire their baobabs. Majunga, for instance, touts its famous baobab, “a more than 700 years old tree [that] makes the city proud.” And twenty kilometers north of Morondava there is “the most popular place for baobab spotters, Baobab Alley.” 22 One of our contributors wrote, “this [fiber] is a major use in Mozambique. It is difficult, at least close to villages, to find unscarred trees.” 23 In this regard, it is not unlike Portugal’s cork oaks, which produce billions of corks for the world’s wine bottles. But their growth and fruit production is also severely stunted.
OCR for page 53
Lost Crops of Africa: Fruits, Volume III Wild Resources Although new plantings probably hold the key to eventual success, the existing trees offer opportunities for greater commercial ends. Kenya, to mention just one country, is estimated to utilize less than a tenth of the potential inherent in its existing baobabs. In this vein, the thoughtlessness that now sees millions of saplings mindlessly destroyed needs to be counteracted by educating everyone to protect young baobabs. In a like spirit, the taboos need to be overcome: Baobabs are certainly not evil, and any tree that regenerates itself spontaneously still can use the help of horticulture (especially where fruits are heavily exploited and no seeds ever make it to the ground). Nutrition Earlier, we presented figures on the protein, mineral and vitamin contents of the fruits and seeds—ones that should be of consuming interest to anyone working to overcome Africa’s chronic malnutrition. Such figures, however, have yet to be subjected to adequate independent verification for underpinning continent-wide endeavors. Thus, food chemists should now carefully check the fruit’s composition across the plant’s range, determining various geographical differences and putting the overall nutritional profile onto a sound footing. Beyond that, virtually everything relating to nutrition awaits attention: digestibility studies on each ingredient—protein, fiber, calcium, other minerals, vitamins. Studies on how storage and various food-processing methods affect nutrient content also would be helpful. Clearly, monkey bread could become a key tool for overcoming deficiencies in vitamins, protein, and food energy. Anyone involved with efforts to overcome general malnutrition and its related maladies should consider testing this common fruit food. An important approach to chronic malnutrition might be all around Africa…just unrecognized by the majority. Food Technology In light of the almost complete lack of basic knowledge of this foodstuff, much remains to be done regarding the science of harvesting, handling, cooking, storing, and processing the fruits and seeds. Food technologists of the world could find much of interest and humanitarian relevance here. Research into variability in flavor and local acceptability might be useful too. In addition, means for detecting fraudulent baobab powder mixtures, which now occur in some markets, are needed. Although baobab products are widely eaten, it would be prudent to check the fruit-pulp and the seeds for toxic or noxious components that might be detrimental if used more intensively or if fed to malnourished babies. In addition, it would help to have some measure of any hazards due to such things as adulteration, poor sanitation, and bad handling. In this regard, studies on spoilage could be conducted. Despite the fruit’s renowned longevity, there is likely to be a place for preservatives as well.
OCR for page 54
Lost Crops of Africa: Fruits, Volume III MALI SHOWS THE WAY In Malian Dogon country, baobabs are often planted in courtyards, carefully grown for 5-6 years, and then carefully transplanted to family owned fields, where the trees are protected from roaming animals. There are already many examples of baobab “orchards” planted in the periphery of Sahelian towns and cities (Bamako, Mopti, etc). Those orchards are all harvested for leaves rather than fruit—leaves are more abundant and harvesting can commence in a much shorter time than for the case of fruits. In Mali, local agroforestry researches have perfected grafting techniques with close to 100 percent success rate. Already more than 5,000 trees in over 100 farmer orchards have been grafted with stock from trees with extremely high vitamin C content. In Sahelian Mali and Burkina the fruits are also a major food. Besides domestic consumption, there is an enormous trade of baobab fruit northwards and eastwards in Mali where it is prized alike by Moor, Taureg, and Fula. Water Why is it that the water inside the trunk of a baobab remains potable for months?24 At present, there seem no answers that question, and this mysterious process of water preservation needs investigation. Apparently, the living wood leaches natural preservatives that keep water from fouling. Whatever that leachate contains, it must be remarkably good at killing microbes considering that the trees stand firm with sopping trunks for thousands of years. Edible Oils Despite the fact that the kernels contain only 10-15 percent oil, the tree might make a useful oilseed in spite of its many other uncertainties.. Currently the oil is only rarely used in cooking, but that seems only through a lack of supply. In parts of Senegal (and doubtless elsewhere) people employ it in preparing traditional dishes for certain festivals. It is an attractive golden liquid with a mild taste and good nutritional balance. Exploration by oil chemists is needed. Horticultural Development Although overall priority should be given to getting more of today’s baobabs planted, parallel programs on breeding and improving the species need to be pursued. Collections of seeds should be made from the different types throughout its distribution range and made available to researchers, non-governmental organizations, and others anxious to advance this species. Here is another opportunity for powerful pan- 24 That is, as long as the hole in the trunk is covered to block outside contamination.
OCR for page 55
Lost Crops of Africa: Fruits, Volume III African cooperation. The differing ways in which separate seedlots perform in different locations across the continent will uncover much about the plant that is currently unimagined, and that information will be of value to all. Some idea of the yields—of leaves, fruits, pulp, and seeds—and comparisons between top-producing trees is required. This might be a good opportunity for local, national, or regional contests to see who can come up with Africa’s “best and fairest” baobabs. Beyond that, comparisons on sweetness, nutritional quality, taste, and other food values could be included. Selecting for seed qualities—including large size, ease of shelling, and high oil and protein contents—could also prove highly successful.25 Taken all round, these are important preliminaries for selecting (and perhaps even breeding) baobabs that yield more and better food. The availability of various highly productive forms would transform everyone’s view of this crop and facilitate the species’ progress toward ultimately becoming a much greater resource. If there is one breakthrough that would transform the tree’s place in world resources it is vegetative propagation. Techniques need to be worked out. Multiplying elite specimens via cuttings or grafts or other method could, all by itself, foster vast new plantings, not to mention new profits and new perceptions. For one thing, seedlings of such clones are likely to produce their first harvest in under half the current time—i.e., at age 4-5 years, like apples and other fruits. For another, it will raise yields, reliability, and overall product quality. Field management is also an important area for development. Artificial and natural regeneration techniques for managing baobab in the field require documentation and assessment. Age-old experience in the baobab’s various locales could be invaluable guides here. The species’ ecological tolerances and preferences are poorly understood. Baobab tolerates many different types of sites, but at least one researcher has noticed “a tremendous response to choice of planting site, even to microsite.” This too needs clarifying. Pharmaceuticals All parts of the tree are used in traditional medicines, but so far there is little proof of efficacy.26 Pharmacological investigations should be undertaken. Proving or disproving claims will not necessarily be easy: traditional preparation methods are often complex and secret. 25 On this point, our contributor John Scheuring reports: “In our work in Mali, we found that people from several kilometers around recognized certain trees for their particular fruit or leaf qualities. In fact the tree with the highest vitamin C content we ever found was already well known locally for its fruit quality.” 26 Much of the early familiarity of Europeans with the baobab came from its fruits, which were commonly sold in the herb and spice markets of Egypt during the 16th century, probably for their medicinal value in reducing or removing fever. The first recorded reference was by the 14th-century Arab traveler Ibn Batuta, who highlighted the trunk’s capacity to store water.
OCR for page 56
Lost Crops of Africa: Fruits, Volume III The Pharmacopée Traditionnelle Sénégalaise recommends the naturally dried pulp of the fruit for use against dysentery, fever, and rickets. Those uses seem likely to be scientifically sound, and rather modest investigations can probably give them pan-African acceptance. SPECIES INFORMATION Botanical Name Adansonia digitata Linnaeus. Family Bombacaceae Common Names Afrikaans: kremertartboom Arabic: bu hibab, hahar, tebeldis; fruit: gangoleis Bambara: sira Burkina Faso: twege (Moré) English: baobab, monkey-bread tree, Ethiopian sour gourd, cream of tartar tree, vegetable elephant, abode of the gods French: tree: baobab; fruit: pain de singe, calabassier, arbre aux calebasses Fulani: bokki, bokchi, boko Ghana: odadie (Twi), tua (Nankani) Hausa: kuka Jola: buback Kenya: mbuyu (Swahili); mwamba (Kamba); olmisera (Maasai); muru (Bajun); Mandinko: sito Malagasy: Bozo (Sakalava dialect) Manyika: mubuyu Ndebele: umkomo Portugese: imbondeiro Shona: mayuy, muuyu, tsongoro (seeds) Sudan: tebeldi, humeira Swahili: mbuyu Tsonga: shimuwu Tswana: mowana Venda: muvuhuyu Wolof: bui Yoruba: luru Zulu: isimuhu, umshimulu
OCR for page 57
Lost Crops of Africa: Fruits, Volume III Description There is no such thing as a typical baobab—individual specimens vary in size, shape, height, trunk shape, and girth. Nonetheless, no one ever mistakes one. Typically, the tree reaches 20 m with a trunk that is cylindrical, tapering, bottle-shaped or irregular. Although normally 3 to 5 m in diameter, massive trunks can be 10 m across.27 The lower parts are bare. The top, divides into stiff upward-pointing branches, giving the impression of a bottle full of twigs. The thick, fibrous bark has a smooth, silvery, metallic-gray or purplish surface and a remarkable ability to heal itself when damaged. Surface roots spread far from the base of the tree, although the deep taproot disappears with time. The biology of the baobab is poorly known. The trees are deciduous, leafing out during the period of maximum heat just before the first rains arrive. Juvenile trees have leaves of simple form, but a mature tree’s leaves have segments that radiate outward, somewhat like the fingers of a hand. Trees remain in leaf through the rainy season, during which time they also develop huge pink or white flowers (though flowering can occur at almost any time). These blossoms are solitary and showy, being up to 20 cm in diameter and hanging on long stalks. Their petals are waxy, snow-white, and pendulous. Though they attract abundant bees (and even bush babies), in the main they seem mostly to be pollinated by bats. The fruits form up to six months after flowering, during the late dry season or early wet season. In shape, they vary from spherical to oblong and slender to ovoid, measuring 12-40 cm in length and 7-17 cm in diameter. Their woody gourdlike shells are up to 1 cm thick and are coated with a velvety coating of yellowish brown hairs. Inside, they contain the powdery pulp, divided longitudinally by fibrous septa into about 10 chambers. Each chamber contains many kidney-shaped, brownish black or purple seeds that are approximately the size of fat beans and have a hard shell. Just how long the seeds remain viable is unknown, but it exceeds five years. Distribution The species occurs throughout semiarid continental Africa, from the Senegal coast to northern South Africa. Its northern limit across West Africa is about 16°N; its southern limit is about 15°S in Angola, 22°S in Botswana, and 24°C in Mozambique (at Chokwe). It is particularly plentiful in the Sudano-Sahelian zone and is renowned in Madagascar, where it was introduced probably by Arab traders. 27 The earliest Western description of the baobab was by Alvise Cadamosto, who saw some at the mouth of the Senegal River in 1454. He estimated the trunks to be about 11 m in diameter. A naturalist since has reportedly seeing trunks 9.75 m in diameter on trees only 21-24 m high. Those were roughly half as wide as they were tall!
OCR for page 58
Lost Crops of Africa: Fruits, Volume III Beyond Africa’s shores, baobab has been planted in many tropical locations. Some can be found scattered across tropical America and tropical Asia. Many are found in India, Sri Lanka, and elsewhere around the Indian Ocean owing to Arab traders who carried it there from Africa in the 14th and 15th centuries or earlier. It is also known (together with a local counterpart, known as boab) in Australia’s “Top End.” Horticultural Varieties Some varieties have been distinguished, based mainly on fruit shape. But there are doubts as to their genetic validity. In Mali, varieties are indigenously differentiated by their trunk color; white, black, or red. Environmental Requirements Baobab occurs almost exclusively in tropical latitudes. It is well adapted to dry and hostile environments and mostly occurs in the semiarid and subhumid zones. A light demander, it does not thrive in dense forest. Rainfall This species is most common where mean annual rainfall is 200-1,200 mm. However, it is also found in locations with as little as 90 mm or as much as 2,000 mm. Altitude The tree can be found from sea level to 1,500 m, but most occur below 600 m. Low Temperature Mean annual temperature: 20-30°C. Frost sensitive. High Temperature No limits within Africa. In areas where baobabs grow temperatures get well into the high 40°C . Soil Grows on many different soils but develops best on deep, well drained, generally moist, calcareous sites. Despite being intolerant of waterlogging, it thrives along the banks of rivers such as the Niger. Reportedly tolerates laterite as well as relatively alkaline (e.g., limestone) soils. Apparently does poorly in the sandy “millet” soils of the Sahel. Related Species The region of origin of Adansonia digitata is not clear, but Madagascar is the center of diversity for the genus overall. Of the eight Adansonia species, six are found only in Madagascar, one other occurs in Australia, and the last, the baobab of this chapter, appears to have originated somewhere on continental Africa. The six Madagascar species are interesting in their own right. They are widespread on the island’s western slopes and are particularly numerous in the southwest. Three are particularly noteworthy for their appearance and utility:
OCR for page 59
Lost Crops of Africa: Fruits, Volume III Za (Adansonia za) Occurring in the south, west, and northwest, this species—Madagascar’s most widespread baobab—forms whole forests, with thousands of ungainly bottle-shaped trees making perhaps the eeriest habitat to be seen anywhere. The seeds are eaten and the trunk is sometimes hollowed out as a cistern. This very big tree reaches 30m in height, with a trunk that is cylindrical, slightly tapering, or swollen. The primary branches, often tapering, ascend properly toward the heavens. Renala (Adansonia grandidieri) The most statuesque baobab of all, this flat-topped species has been called “a pure gem.” It has an otherworldly look and is often represented on the cover of books on Madagascar. The fruits are eaten and the seed kernels are so lipid rich they were once exported to France for processing into cooking oil. Nowadays both fruits and seeds are used only locally and on a small scale. Known locally as renala or reniala (Mother of the Forest), it is widely honored as the dwelling place of spirits. Offerings are placed at its base to ensure fertility, fine harvests, and good fortune. Famous groves occur in the western part of Madagascar, near Morombe and Morondava. Bozy28 (Adansonia suarezensis). This species is restricted to a tiny area near Antsiranana (Diego Suarez) on Madagascar’s northern tip. Indeed, its distribution is limited enough to threaten extinction. Given current trends, according to some observers, it is likely to survive only another decade or two. Yet this is a tree with tasty fruits and large edible seeds, which apparently have the highest oil content (46 percent) of any baobab seed. Modest efforts might rescue this species from extinction and also turn it to great benefit. The tree itself is large, up to 25m tall and 2m across. The trunk typically tapers gently from bottom to top and the crown is flat, with branches radiating horizontally. 28 The name is used for all northern Malagasy baobabs, but primarily this species.