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INTRODUCTION Most of Africaâs edible native fruits are wild. One compilation lists over 1000 different species from 85 botanical families and even that assessment is probably incomplete.1 Among all those fruit-bearing plants, many of the individual specimens growing within Africa are sheltered and protected, some are even carefully tended, but few have been selected to bring out their best qualities, let alone deliberately cultivated or maintained through generations. They remain untamed. Despite the vastness of the resource, wild fruits are rarely included in development activities. At most, they get only sketchy horticultural attention; seldom, if ever, are any grown in organized plantings. Indeed, apart from listings in the tomes of taxonomy, Africaâs wild-fruit wealth is essentially unknown to science. For all the lack of research, wild fruits still play a crucial role in Africaâs rural areas, yielding the very young a key link that helps a fragile nutritional chain from parting. This is because, unlike most grains and vegetables, fruits generally do not need cooking andârequiring no adult intervention and being tasty to bootâthey are sought out especially by children. This is important because children are malnutritionâs greatest victims. In this sense, these wild fruits are Africaâs most nutritionally important resource, critical to everyone during their founding years. Gathering fruit has been a routine of growing up throughout the millennia of our existence. In rural areas everywhere on earth, wild fruits contribute to nutrition and health during the most vulnerable period of human life. During the crucial years when young bodies and brains are developing, wild fruits can provide the vital nutrition. In addition, scavenging for fruits is exceptionally important to youngsters in the many cultures that prepare meals fewer than three times a day. Often, adults have neither time nor means to prepare supplementary snacks, so youngsters, whose small stomachs can barely hold enough to sustain their daily needs, rely on the fruits of the field, woodland, wetlands, forest, savanna, or hillside to fill the voids and carry them through. The amounts consumed may rarely have been large. But even a few small fruits that are nutritionally dense can deliver big benefits when the rest of the diet is deficient in vitamins and minerals, which is especially the case when it is overly dependent on starchy staples. 1 See Martin, F.W., C.W. Campbell, and R.M. RubertÃ©. 1987. Perennial Edible Fruits of the Tropics. Handbook No. 642. U.S. Department of Agriculture. 185
186 LOST CROPS OF AFRICA 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 todayâs 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 didnât 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 Africaâs 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 backwardnessâthat 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 âsimple,â âsubstandard,â âunfashionableâ 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.
INTRODUCTION 187 Wild fruits also need rescuing from the notion that they are solely for the young or that it is degrading to eat such things. Such attitudes ignore the nutritious resources that are on hand. Ironically, this is an era in which nations almost everywhere are exhorting their citizenry to eat more fruitsâ the wilder the better it seems. In market economies especially, consumers can have a large influence on what is being studied and sold. Everyday, Africans can also call for emphasis on their popular preferences, many of which are not the fruits of urban life and mass cultivation. That, in turn, may bring support and attention to fruits such as those described here. Technical interest and professional support for wild fruits are also crucial. Currently, textbooks, the international literature, and foreign advisors rarely mention, let alone promote, resources with names as strange as aizen, icacina, or imbe. As noted, nearly all activities in African agriculture emphasize the top international crops whose qualities are beyond question. While the focus on staples and markets and exports is right and proper, quality remains as desirable in eating as in other spheres of human enterprise. And fruits contribute most to the quality of eating. And of course, their nutrientsânotably vitaminsâact catalytically in tiny amounts to help the body employ the bulky staple foods most efficiently and effectively. From development banks and funding agencies to the peer-reviewers who judge research proposals, decision-makers can open their eyes to the African bounty that nourished people long before wheat, rice, soybean, maize, mango, or avocado were seen by human eyes. The importance of the wild-fruit resource can be incorporated not only into public perceptions but also into landuse. The disappearance of wild fruits is partly due to the destruction of their habitat. Under the pressure of population or politics or profit, the groves of good nutrition near villages and towns get cut or burned or drained or contaminated by waste. To this extent, the deficiency in childhood nutrition is homegrown, and the value lost is as much to people as to the environment. In short, the underexploited fruitsâthe truly âlostâ fruitsâdescribed in the following chapters can contribute much more to Africa than they do today. Indeed, as the rest of this section indicates, many might well come to prominence. First, they taste good and add variety for the palate. A key advantage is, of course, adaptability to Africaâs climates and conditions. Another advantage is that the plants are already spread across the African continent and are well known to many users, especially those among the destitute, who employ them to add culinary variety, flavor, nutrients, and sometimes even substantial energy to diets derived from bland staples. Some are even used as sources of water.5 5 It is little-recognized that wild fruits quench thirst safely. Filled with pure water, they contributed to public health long before the concept of Public Health was recognized. Wild watermelons and several other African fruits are even today more appreciated for moisture than for nourishment.
188 LOST CROPS OF AFRICA The following 14 chapters highlight a small selection of wild fruits that appear capable of contributing broadly to Africaâs future well-being. Their individual potentials are also summarized immediately below. As with the species treated earlier, these have been chosen from the recommendations of hundreds of researchers who participated in the first phase of this multi-part investigation of Africaâs promising indigenous food plants. It should be understood that these 14 are representative of the wealth to be found among Africaâs untamed fruit resources. They are not the only examples, nor perhaps even the best for any given location. Other species should thus not be judged inferior just because they received no mention in these pages. All in all, the fruits described below offer just a sampling of available and practical tools for working on chronic problems such as malnutrition, food insecurity, rural decline, and environmental destruction. They should be brought in from the wild.
INTRODUCTION 189 SUMMARIES OF INDIVIDUAL SPECIES Following are short summaries of 14 promising wild fruits selected for treatment in the second half of this volume. Following these summaries are targeted discussions of their potential for meeting development challenges in Africa. Table 2 (page 194) summarizes their potential across Africa. This summary information is also found in the detailed chapters dealing with individual crops. 1. Aizen (Mukheit) The aizen or mukheit (Boscia senegalensis, Capparaceae) occurs in a vast swath across the top of sub-Saharan Africa, from Somalia in the east to Mauritania in the west. Usually a scrawny shrub, it occupies some of the hottest and driest locations faced by plant life. Yet aizen not only survives, it also yields an array of useful productsâenough indeed to sustain human life almost by itself. In at least a dozen countries, people at times virtually live off aizenâs fruits, seeds, roots, and leaves. Although not unpleasant to eat, the fruits are most notable for being available when little else remotely edible is to be found. In addition, the seeds extracted from within those fruits are cooked and dried, and become such common dietary items that they have been described as desert dwellersâ staples. Climate Arid. 2. Chocolate Berries Several of the nearly 70 Vitex species (Labiatae) found scattered across tropical Africa produce fruits of local importance. These small and rugged trees are quintessential wild food resources. In season, they become bespangled by an abundance of blackish fruits, which passersby eagerly gather up. The reason? Although the uninitiated may disdain the pungent scent and stained lips, almost everyone loves the âchocolateâ flavor. Climate Tropical. 3. Custard Apples The plant-family botanists call Annonaceae produces fruits crammed with a sweet pulp with a custard-like texture. These tropical delights are sold the world around under names such as âcustard apple,â âcherimoya,â or âsopsâ of various vintage. They are already among the most beloved fruits in tropical Asia and America, but so far the African members have been neglected and are poorly understood even within their natural habitats. What might be called âthe lost sopsâ deserve further development, not to mention protection from disappearance. One, the African custard apple, has been called âthe best indigenous fruit in most parts of tropical Africa.â Another,
190 LOST CROPS OF AFRICA the junglesop, produces probably the familyâs biggest fruitsâas long as a forearm and as thick as a thigh. A thirdâperhaps the strangest of allâ âhangs like a bunch of sausages,â each fruit a separate bright-scarlet link. Climate Tropical. 4. Ebony The jet-black, rock-hard heartwood known as ebony is perhaps the smoothest, shiniest, and most beautiful of all the woods; renowned worldwide for expensive carvings, it is regarded as almost a precious material, and can sell by the gram. But Diospyros, the name of these treesâ genus, actually means âfruit of the gods,â and outside the tropics ebony species are most renowned for the persimmon. In their domicile in the wild, African members of the Family Ebenaceae also produce widely enjoyed fruits. And they could be much more widely enjoyed. The fruits have advantages: They are suitably sized for marketing on a large scale, attractive to look at, and appealingly succulent and sweet. They are, however, very soft and delicate. This fragility is at present the biggestâperhaps the onlyâ barrier to ebony fruits becoming a valuable, everyday, Africa-wide food. Climate Mostly tropical. 5. Gingerbread Plums Within virtually the whole of sub-Saharan Africaâthe vast stretch of territory between Senegal and Madagascarâthere exist a number of interrelated wild fruits (Parinari and kindred genera of the Family Chrysobalanaceae) with agreeable strawberry-like flavors. These so-called gingerbread plums can have a texture firm enough to crunch like a crisp apple. Usually red or yellow in color, these plum-sized delicacies lack the sourness typical of wild fruits (and of true plums, for that matter). Millions of aficionados, notably children, love their crunchy sugariness, and consume them in quantity. Climate Moist tropical and subtropical. 6. Gumvines Some of the roughly 17 Landolphia species (Family Apocynaceae), occurring mainly in West and Central Africa, bear masses of fruits that make tasty morsels. These âgumvine fruitsâ or ârubber fruitsâ look somewhat like apricots, with tough skins that are red, yellow, or orange in color. The plants themselves are common and are obviously at home in the African environment. They are forest lianas and sprawly shrubs nowadays admired for their jasmine-scented flowers as much as for their plentiful fruits or the latex-filled stems that once provided Europe and other parts of the world with much of their rubber. Climate Tropical savannas and forests.
INTRODUCTION 191 7. Icacina Icacina (Icacina oliviformis, Icacinaceae) is a small, drought-resistant shrub forming dense stands in the West African and Central African woodlands and plains. Although the species is truly wild, several million people rely at various seasons upon its separate products: fruits, seeds, and tuberous roots. The fruits are usually consumed fresh. Bright red and plum- like, they have a sweet and pleasant flavor. The plants grow so densely and yield so exuberantly that during the season a family can reportedly collect hundreds of kilos of fruits a day, even from untended wild stands. The small, round seeds from the center of the fruits are also edible. And the huge edible roots are so much like a much better known staple that their common name in English is âfalse yam.â Climate Moist and seasonally dry tropics. 8. Imbe Food and travel writers commonly elevate Asiaâs mangosteen into the lofty level of âworldâs most delicious fruit.â However, the plant producing it happens to be only one of 400 Garcinia species found across Asia and Africa. Africaâs best-known member is the imbe (Garcinia livingstonei, Guttiferae), a crooked tree whose soft and colorful fruits brighten up markets from Senegal to South Africa. This small, orange-colored delight provides a juicy pulp that has a pleasantly sweet-to-acid flavor. East Africans have dubbed it âKing of Fruits.â Even those specimens that are unusually sour prove notably appealing on a hot afternoon. Climate Moist tropics and wooded plains. 9. Medlars In East, Central, and southern Africa at least eight species of Vangueria (Family Rubiaceae) commonly grow with surprising vigor in dry, eroded, infertile, leached, or otherwise challenging sites. These trees closely resemble one another in both appearance and a propensity to bear lots of fruits. For want of any popular name in English, they are called wild medlars or African medlars. The fruits dry easily (even drying out before they are picked), after which they take on the aroma and flavor of dried apples. Reconstituted with water and a little sugar, they substitute for applesauce as well as being used as fillings in puddings and many more culinary products. Climate Woodlands, scrub, valleys, stony hillocks, or sandy dunes. 10. Monkey Oranges Three monkey oranges (Strychnos cocculoides, S. spinosa, and S. pungens, Strychnaceae) produce fruits that are large, flavorful, easy to
192 LOST CROPS OF AFRICA handle, and often desperately difficult to find due to overwhelming demand. Farmers appreciate the trees so much that when clearing land they spare the axâeven when that will hinder their subsequent field operations. Of all Africaâs wild fruit trees, these are the most âconventionalâ in appearance and usage. They are similar in size and shape to apple, pear, and orange trees. Given horticultural attention, monkey oranges probably can be raised with equal facility. Already, they bear their fruits in abundance. Climate Savannas and dry woodlands. 11. Star Apples In many tropical American countries, especially in the Caribbean, the star apple (Chrysophyllum cainito) is a common dooryard tree whose apple-sized delights provide a sweet flesh with small seeds arranged in a star pattern. What is not well known is that the area below the Sahara contains more than a dozen related species. These attractive trees of the genus Chrysophyllum and Bequaertiodendron (Family Sapotaceae) create their own edible counterparts whose smooth green, purple, apricot, yellow, or copper-colored skin encloses a white, sweet, tasty pulp. This pulp is arranged in segments and, when cut transversely, typically displays the star-shaped seed arrangement that constitutes the family crest. Climate Lowland tropics and subtropics. 12. Sugarplums Africa is home to more than 30 species of wild fruit trees belonging to the genus Uapaca (Phyllanthaceae; also placed in Euphorbiaceae or Uapacaceae). Several produce flavorful, attractive fruits that engender enthusiasm wherever they occur. These delights add a sweet yet tangy zest to traditional foods from porridges to desserts. Fully ripe, these are plum- sized, yellow-brown in color, juicy, and honeylike in taste. Climate Seasonally dry wooded parkland. 13. Sweet Detar Throughout much of tropical Africa the detar tree (Detarium senegalense, Leguminosae) is common and its round brown pods well known. At first sight these fruits look like apricots, but physically they are more like tamarinds, with a crisp shell enclosing a rather flaky greenish pulp that makes good eating. As with tamarinds (see Part 1), sweet detars are especially enjoyed in West Africa. Most are eaten fresh, but some are dried in the sun and sold in the markets like dates. The hard shell and dry pulp give them an exceptional shelf life and the sweet-and-sour flavor appeals to most every palate. Climate Woody savannas and parkland.
INTRODUCTION 193 14. Tree Grapes About 40 different trees of the genus Lannea (Family Anacardiaceae) are to be found in the tropics of Asia and Africa. The species in Asia have received horticultural attention, but the 20 or so that are native to locations from Madagascar to The Gambia remain unmoved by modernity. Yet at least a dozen of these wild fruits could be valuable future food resources. Although belonging to the same plant family as mango, cashew, and pistachio, their fruits are more like grapes in form. They come in pendulous bunches and are reddish, purple, or black in color with a whitish bloom on the skin. Although some have a resinous taste, many have a pleasant flavor described as truly âgrape-like.â Climate Tropical forests to tropical savannas.
TABLE 2: POTENTIAL ROLES FOR SELECTED WILD AFRICAN FRUITS *** = Outstanding; PRIMARY OCCURRENCE ** = Notable; Food Rural Sustainable Central Southern * = Average Overall Nutrition Security Development Landcare West Africa Africa East Africa Africa Aizen (Mukheit) *** ** *** ** *** â â Chocolate Berries *** ** *** *** *** â â â â Custard Apples ** ** * ** * â â â â Ebony *** ** *** *** *** â â â â Gingerbread Plums *** ** * *** *** â â â â Gumvines ** ** * ** ** â â Icacina ** ** *** ** ** â â Imbe ** ** * *** ** â â â â Medlars *** ** *** *** *** â â â Monkey Oranges ** ? *** *** *** â â â â Star Apples ** * * ** *** â â â â Sugarplums *** *** *** *** *** â â â â Sweet Detar *** *** *** ** *** â Tree Grapes ** ** ** *** ** â â â â 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.
INTRODUCTION 195 POTENTIAL ROLES FOR SELECTED WILD AFRICAN FRUITS To give some idea of their potential to help overcome the great central issues of African humanitarian and economic development we now summarize the above mentioned wild fruitsâ likely relevance to four of Africaâs biggest needs for survival and social stability: nutrition, food security, rural prosperity, and general landcare. OVERCOMING MALNUTRITION Wild fruits can contribute to overcoming malnutrition because the plants survive where their more pampered kin perish and thus produce nothing whatever. Additionally, because wild plants are necessarily self-sufficient, they promote well-being for future generations as well as for the present. It is noteworthy that harsh and difficult locations contribute disproportionately to malnutrition mortality. So, even with their limitations, wild fruits often offer a good at-home solution. And, with better knowledge and more attention, wild fruits can contribute much more. On the other hand, these species are essentially unknown to medical doctors, nutritionists, bio- and analytical chemists, agronomists, horticulturists, or even the technical literature. Only a few have been analyzed in detail for nutritional components, and whether those results are representative is uncertain. Therefore considerable ambiguity over their true relative worth, let alone their future, is to be expected. Below is a summary of the merits, specifically in terms of fighting malnutrition, of each of the wild fruits highlighted in the second section of this book. Aizen (Mukheit) Aizenâs nutritional content is poorly known but people existing in the extreme climates where the plant grows can rarely expect foods of high nutrition. They can, however, get aizenâ¦and giving them easier access to more of it could prove a key for reducing mortality in the locations that contribute more than most to the suffering caused by extreme malnutrition. The pulp reportedly contains good calcium, phosphorus, iron, and some B vitamins. It is said, however, that its main value is in supplying vitamins A and C. It also provides a little protein. Inside are greenish seeds that resemble peas in appearance and usage. Nutritionally speaking, these are perhaps the better instrument for inducing healthier living. They have as much starch and soluble carbohydrate as the local grains (sorghum and millet). Their protein content is high (relative to cereals) and it is of at least moderate nutritional quality. The seeds apparently are also rich in zinc, a mineral considered important for maintaining and recovering well-being.
196 LOST CROPS OF AFRICA Chocolate Berries Little is presently known of the chocolate berriesâ nutritional contributions. In Sierra Leone they are claimed to cure a conditionâ associated with sores at the corners of mouth and eyesâthat is described as a nutritional deficiency caused by lack of vitamins B and A. As tools for malnourished childrenâs self-medication they might prove exceptional, seeing the plants are adaptable, rugged, self-sustaining, high yielding, and within the reach of little fingers. Custard Apples These are sweet, flavorful, attractive, and likely to provide nutrients in reasonable quantity. Based on analyses of custard apples from other regions, they should possess moderate amounts of calcium and phosphorus (30-40 mg per 100g), modest amounts of vitamin-A precursors, and reasonable amounts of the B vitamins thiamin, riboflavin, and niacin. Their sweet and custard-like pulp should provide a potent means of delivering nutrients to needy small ones because it appeals so much to the young in years. Ebony As far as nutrition is concerned, the pulp of Africaâs native persimmons can be expected to be rich in vitamin C, with perhaps 25-50 mg per 100 grams. Interestingly, like apples, common persimmons have more vitamin C in their skin than their flesh. In addition, the skinâs bright red color likely reflects the presence of lycopene, the nutritionally valuable carotenoid found in tomatoes. Gingerbread Plums Gingerbread plums seem like powerful tools for building better bodies. Their colorful skins, bright yellow flesh, and high sweetness endow special appeal. Millions of Africans adore them. When in season, some peoples treat them almost as a daily staple. And the tough-skinned fruits are easy to handle, resisting bruising and shipping damage. Other than crude proximate analysis, little is known of the food value. Nonetheless, they seem likely to be a good nutritional support, especially for the young and the vulnerable. Gumvines Juice of these fruits is regarded as extremely healthful, and probably with good reason, although the nutritionally important ingredients are little- known at present. People often substitute it for lime juice to season rice, maize, and other grains; prepare lemonade-like drinks; make a type of beer; and flavor foods such as fish. Thus, gumvine fruits are probably a good means for delivering nutrients to all levels of society.
INTRODUCTION 197 Icacina No one yet fully knows the contributions this species makes to nutritional well-being, but also no one doubts that it is positive. Icacina is renowned as a living grocery store during normal times and an emergency food during hungry times. Imbe This fruit would likely make a good tool for the suppression of nutritional deficiencies because it is popular in the diet. The pulp is yellow and watery, and has a pleasing sweet flavorâdescribed as ânot unlike a perfect peach.â It is eaten raw but is more commonly cooked with porridge and other cereal products. Thus, increasing the production and consumption of imbe could boost the basic nutritional status of all age groups. Medlars These tasty morsels deliver more than just pleasure, and they deserve to be part of nutrition-improvement programs. Although much remains to be done to clarify the nutritional content of the different species, it is already clear that these rugged, resilient trees amount to self-sustaining tools for reducing malnutrition. Typically, these fruits are stored in dried form, and then boiled into a thick liquid that is used like gravy to flavor staple foods, notably mealies (maize porridge). They are thus a good way to deliver nutrients to both the unhealthy and the unsuspecting. Monkey Oranges Weâre not certain just how to rate these fruits for combating childhood malnutrition. On the one hand, they are among the most popular native wild fruits. On the other hand, their food value is poorly known, and there is the possibility of adverse effects (especially if consumed to excess). Monkey oranges, however, are believed to be rich in the B vitamins and vitamin C. One species (Strychnos spinosa) can reportedly be surprisingly rich in food energyâalmost one-third fat and an energy level of almost 500 calories per 100g. Even if only verified in rare âsports,â it might become especially valuable against marasmus, mortal malnutrition caused by too few calories. Star Apples African star apples remain horticulturally undeveloped and their nutritional qualities are poorly known, though their relatives in the Americas have been compared to orange but with half the vitamin C. Despite scientific neglect, however, they are esteemed in many places and are likely to have nutritional merit of at least a modest nature. As weapons for conquering Africa-wide malnutrition, these seem like long shots. But probably, they are
198 LOST CROPS OF AFRICA no less valuable than everyday Western fruitsâpeaches or plums, sayâthat by default constitute the yardstick for measuring healthy diets in the best nourished parts of the world. Sugarplums Although little is yet known about their ingredients, these fruits are thought to be nutritionally outstanding. The level of vitamin C can be especially high. Indeed, the best known species, mohobohobo, produces fruits whose ripe edible part contains 1.8 mg vitamin C per gâmore even than guava. Most are eaten fresh, but some are pounded with water and served as drinks or even as a fragrant fruit wine. In addition, tasty snacks are made from the pulp by adding water, flour, and sometimes egg, flattening the mixture into round cakes, and frying them like doughnuts. These variant products offer delivery systems for adding nutrients to whole societies. Sweet Detar Sweet detar is an outstanding source of vitamin Câperhaps among the best of all. In 1988, researchers studying 29 fresh fruits consumed in Senegal discovered its pulp to be the richest in vitamin C. Nothing else came close. In addition, the purple-brown, sweetly scented seeds have edible kernels. Flour made from them is notable for having 12 percent of a protein rich in the botanically rare essential amino acids lysine and tryptophan. The kernels are also crushed to extract their oil for culinary use. Collectively, then, the contributions of vitamins, quality protein, and food energy could make sweet detars powerful preventatives and even possible cures for several types of malnutrition and their associated ailments. Tree Grapes These childrenâs favorites are seemingly excellent resources, but so far the nutritional benefits remain unrevealed. Likely, these grapelike delights are good sources of provitamin A, iron, and zinc, and might contribute vitally to child survival. If so, these resilient, self-sustaining, productive wild shrubs could be ideal for achieving long-term nutritional care.
INTRODUCTION 199 BOOSTING FOOD SECURITY In rural Africa, many people live near wild fruit-bearing trees and bushes that produce food at times when crops cannot. For this reason alone, these plants should not be neglected any longer. In fact, for the reliable food production necessary to Africaâs social security and general stability, such wild fruits hold great promise. Diversified diets offer the best nutritional balance, and diversity can be maintained through the combined exploitation of both domesticated and wild foods. Further, wild plants are necessarily self-sufficient species, which, due to age-old adaptations, need little care. They require, for example, no fertilizer or pesticides (at least for survival). Irrigation is unnecessary and disease problems generally are moderate to minimal. On the other hand, insects and higher-order pests can be a menace. The problem here is not so much the loss of the plant but the loss of the harvest. Fruit flies present a perennial problem that is hardly simple or easy to solve, but which can be minimized. In general, however, wild fruits have minimum management requirements for survival, making them ideal for food security, where their contributions may be episodic but vital. This is not to say, however, that wild fruits cannot be assisted to produce more or to produce more reliably. Indeed, this is what needs to be done. Raising the productivity of wild fruits will help many people who periodically struggle against starvationâdisproportionate numbers of whom live in rural Africa and rely on wild fruits when their lives hang in the balance. Such emergency foods are of course critical in the face of famine, but more often their importance is manifest during that annual recurrence known as the hungry season (soudure in French)âan agonizing few weeks or months when the last harvest is eaten and the new one is not yet ready. Below is a summary of the merits, specifically in terms of food security, of each wild fruit highlighted in the remainder of this volume. Aizen (Mukheit) A food security gem, this fruit has been a proven lifesaver during famines since ancient days. It preserved many lives, for example, during the 1982- 1983 Mali drought as well as during subsequent famine in Ethiopia and Sudan. In both cases there was a large increase in aizen consumption. Livestock and wildlife ignore aizen for most of the year, meaning people have few worries about their trees being devoured by goats or gazelles when they are not looking. Nor will the trees end up being destroyed by the desert. For this multi-layer security, alone, aizen is promising for establishing famine-food reserves. Although seasonal, its fruiting differs from the norm and comes when farm crops are just being planted and things to eat are hard to find. This alone also makes aizen a lifesaver. In the slightly better watered zones, where there are other edible plants to choose from, aizen serves
200 LOST CROPS OF AFRICA mainly as a supplement rather than a staple. Even so, it remains a valuable backup for devastating drought emergencies that arise seemingly almost routinely every decade or two. Beyond the fruits, the cooked, dried seeds are also important famine-time fare throughout the Saharo-Sahelian zone. Chocolate Berries A great intervention for food security. Villagers rely on these trees for much more than just fruits. They boil and eat young leaves like spinach. They depend on the foliage to keep their livestock from dying during the long and trying months when the grass is gone. With more chocolate berries, life might be less hard and more stable in many places. Custard Apples Although this is an excellent time to investigate these unusual fruits, food security will probably never be a major merit in their case. They are soft and perishable. Also, the trees are not exceptionally hardy, rugged or tolerantâ¦at least as has been reported so far. Ebony Intriguing potentials. In certain areas ebony forests might be established as long-term food reserves, and help save generations of lives. That would be an excellent way to obtain local cooperation for planting and protecting both ebony trees and the environment. Yet it is not just in famine times that these trees become saviors. Every year people store the dried fruits as a reserve to draw on just before the beginning of the next harvest season, the perilous period when food supplies often run low or run out. Gingerbread Plums These wild tree fruits are a nice seasonal resource, fruiting when other foods are also normally abundant, but we are unaware of any specific merit for food security during dearth times. Gumvines Not recommended for food security purposes at present. In the wild, gumvines do not fruit annually. Also, some species reportedly take as long as 12 months to mature each crop of fruits. Icacina This rugged shrub is even now used as an emergency reserve during times when even millet succumbs. It has been known to survive at least four years without rain and yields three fundamentally different types of foodâfruits,
INTRODUCTION 201 seeds, and tubers. All three are life savers. The fruits, for example, ripen as the dry season comes to an end, the very moment when the stores of other foods often run out. The seeds can be dried and stored with little fear of loss from mice, mildew, or weevil. And the fleshy, tuberous false yam can be 80 percent starch and sometimes weigh over 60 kg. More programs dealing in African food security should be dealing in icacina. It seems like the finest of food-security instruments for the regions where it will growâ¦with icacina around people can always eat. Imbe Although this rugged little tree survives in locales where food production is tenuous, the fruits donât seem a candidate for food security programs. The trees seem to bear during periods of normal seasonal abundance, and the fruits do not keep well; the seeds, however, may hold more promise. Medlars At least in principal, Vangueria seems likely to make outstanding contributions to hunger relief. In eastern, central, and southern Africa, at least eight species grow vigorously in sites with challenging soil conditions. Their rather unusual fruits not only dry out and stay aloft on the tree, they remain edible for months. Given their easy desiccation, they can be sun- dried and stored for up to six months and, once reconstituted with water, taste almost like new. Because of this, African medlars are commonly stashed away for times of scarcity. In conjunction with tree planting and tree conservation, their food security talents are well worth putting on the stage. Monkey Oranges Monkey orange trees are certainly respected for their shade and good looks. However, the greatest admiration is engendered by the tasty fruits, which are widely enjoyed and have the amazing capacity to stay edible in tropical heat for months. At least one of these species has been called, âA great and precious resource in times of crop failure.â The fruits can be buried several months, and (as long as care is taken to keep the shell whole) they come out of the ground juicy, golden, and perfect for eating. These are important resources for the future and seem likely to prove valuable tools for delivering a more secure life to those without access to money. Star Apples For food security projects this probably has limited potential. However, the trees grow rapidly and (after juvenile vulnerabilities) become almost trouble free, resisting among other things pests, diseases, and high winds. As long as they remain unexposed to freezing temperatures, African star apples
202 LOST CROPS OF AFRICA continue producing quantities of delicious fruit year after year while burdening labor almost not at all. That makes them at least a contributor to food, or economic, security. Sugarplums In some parts of some countriesânotably Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Malawiâsugarplums basically underpin existence for part of the year. This is more a matter of choice than charity: people just like eating them so much. However, the trees generally occupy the drier and poorer areas, and seem at home on adverse sites where food production is generally poor and unpredictable. Because of that feature they have traditionally helped millions survive famine. The fruits have exceptionally high levels of vitamin C and definitely deserve consideration in efforts to help free Africa from famine. Sweet Detar Sweet detar seems a superb food-security tool. This tree legume is tolerant, adaptable, generally reliable, and relatively insensitive to site, soil, altitude, heat, or humidity. Because of this and because it continues producing fruits for decades on end, sweet detar could be placed in the forefront of many food-security plannersâ priorities. Silvicultural success could catapult it into a brawny resource that cuts malnutrition and contributes to rural developmentâall while it grows a great timber. Tree Grapes These trees are resilient, drought tolerant, and naturally adapted to harsh sites, including some in which humans sometimes have few food options. They resist the groundfires that are so prevalent and so ruinous in the savannas. The individual species are poorly known to science so no one can now say just what role they might play in food security projects, but on the basis of their resilience and productivity in the untamed wilderness, tree grapes seem likely to prove useful.
INTRODUCTION 203 FOSTERING RURAL DEVELOPMENT Although wild fruits have been accorded little horticultural recognition, some clearly promise to help reduce rural poverty and the dissatisfaction that leads to urban migration. This may come through cultivation or improved in- situ use in the wild, and it is an endeavor that promises to especially improve the lives of women. In many areas of Africa, gathering wild fruits for sale is considered a female prerogative. It is women who sell the fruits, thereby gaining a small income to supplement the welfare of their families. Any help for the resource will directly help such women and by extension their families. One particularly promising approach is the management and domestication of local fruit trees for the production of âexoticâ juices. Below is a summary of merits, specifically in terms of rural development, for each wild fruit highlighted in the remaining chapters of the book. Aizen (Mukheit) This little desert shrub seems at first to offer little direct economic benefit. But during the 1984-85 Sudan famine, its seed effectively became the staple of market society, replacing millet and sorghum (which morphed into luxury foods). In addition, the fruits dry down into a sweet delight, not unlike hard candy, that can probably be sold with little difficulty locally and perhaps at a distance. Furthermore, the dried seeds are ground into flour and used like sorghum, millet, or lentils. The processing and selling of fruits, seeds, or flour are possible routes to small-scale prosperity. People who live where aizen grows are among the earthâs poorest, but that doesnât mean they are without buying, bargaining, or bartering power. Chocolate Berries Rugged, robust, resilient, these woody plants seem capable of contributing to rural development. Certainly a market for the fruits might be developed, but these utilitarian species also offer other potentially saleable products. They yield, for instance, a straight-grained timber resembling teak. They stay green far into the dry season and keep livestock alive (or even in good condition) when death seems the more likely fate. They are favorites for honey producers because bees visit them from afar. Understandably, rural people eagerly plant and tenderly nurture these trees. Thus, although they remain undomesticated, chocolate berries have rural-development potential. Custard Apples As noted, tropical Americaâs custard apples (especially cherimoya) are rising in horticultural importance in several parts of the world. Clearly, the African counterparts could now join this culinary wave. Crosses between
204 LOST CROPS OF AFRICA different species are also creating hybrids with their own attractive futures. Hybrids between the African species and their transatlantic relatives may well produce brightly colored, larger fruits with few (or perhaps no) seeds. Their genetic qualities, in other words, might bring commercial benefits to two continents at the very least. Ebony These persimmon relatives could in the future be widely grown both as village trees and as densely planted stands. Fruit pulp is just one useful product. The seeds of some ebonies are edible. The leaves are used as animal feed. The bark in certain species yields a dark blue dye for coloring cloth as well as a gum used for glue. In the long run, however, the wood would be the greatest financial prize from these forests. Although little is known about their performance under cultivation, their long-term prospects as fruit-and- timber resources could be good. The sale of fruits could support annual maintenance costs and perhaps provide income during the long years in which they are laying down their gold-standard heartwood. Gingerbread Plums For purposes of rural development, these fruits seem at least worthy of exploration. They are already used in a variety of ways: some are eaten fresh, some are boiled with cereal, and some are made into colorful drinks, gruels, and syrups. With most of these botanically interrelated fruits the seed kernels are enjoyed like cashews or almonds. Several species are already âsemi-cultivatedââfarmers clearing land spare good trees and subsequently maintain them for the fruit. This salvage operation has been a first step toward developing a more formal rural resource, now ripe for plucking. Gumvines Little importance is nowadays attached to gumvines as potential income sources, but if they can be tamed and turned to use then tropical Africa will have a collection of interesting crops capable of contributing to economic progress. If particularly good specimens are located and produced in quantity, there is even the possibility of exports because the fruits tend to have shelf lives long enough for a sea voyage. Already, they are frequently sold in markets across West Africa. In Mali, Burkina Faso, and neighboring nations you commonly see boys selling them by the cluster along roadsides. Icacina This speciesâ potential in poverty reduction is uncertain, but possibly outstanding. Despite being untouched by agronomic science, the plant already contributes to the health and happiness of many. Any improvements,
INTRODUCTION 205 no matter how modest, could thus have a satisfying impact on rural welfare. People truly enjoy the seeds, which provide a permanent, reliable, and very tasty food with at least modest profit potential to those who produce or gather it. And there are also the fruits and even the tuber in the bargain. Imbe Many African peoples already relish these fruits and even in its present unimproved state the species produce abundantly. Moreover, imbe trees integrate into the village scene neatly and form excellent partners in mixed- crop farming. Farmers are almost promised a profit because the general populace places high value on these fruitsâindeed, demand is often great enough to go unfilled. The fruits themselves are attractive and of a good size for mass marketing. The trees thrive in adverse sites, including dry, damp, sandy, or rocky locations. They respond vigorously to good culture. Finally, they make excellent village-, farm- or dooryard trees, being tall enough to throw soothing shade over people, paths, and patios. Medlars African medlars are promising for commerce, regardless of whether wild or cultivated. All resemble one another in appearance and a propensity to bear masses of fruits. Specimens with as many as 1,800 fruits have been recorded and harvests approaching $100 a tree are claimed. Marketable products include both fresh and dried fruit. Either way, they make food supplements with potentially high nutritional value. They can also be sold in the form of flavorings and beverages. And they provide edible seed kernels. Monkey Oranges These trees already provide a profit. Indeed, fruit sell at quite high prices and still demand is seldom met. There is even an extensive local and regional trade and, according to one observer, â[more] are urgently needed to make available fruits for export markets and for processing.â Indeed, a much greater commerce in monkey fruits seems eminently possible. A sustainable export trade is not beyond expectation. Zimbabwe has already trucked them to Botswana, and that could be just a beginning. Generally speaking, the three special Strychnos fruits are of marketable size and quite stunning to see. They typically store and ship far better than other tropical fruits. Indeed, they can be piled up and stored in the open because their hard, gourd-like shell resists not only pressure but fungi and fruit flies as well. Star Apples Today, these speciesâ broader potential is unexplored and their value in organized commercial plantings remains untried. They deserve better. An
206 LOST CROPS OF AFRICA important feature is that the fruit becomes available in the dry season, a time when all too often there is not enough to eat or sell. When superior strains become available they seem likely to find ready commercial outlets. However, at present not even the basics of the plantâs production, maintenance, or use are well described. Sugarplums This is one of the few wild fruits with an organized distribution system. The districts in which Uapaca kirkiana grows send the fruits to distant markets. For example, parts of Zimbabwe where mohobohobo trees are abundant truck enormous quantities of the fruits into Harare, where most are sold by street vendors. Already these are quality fruits, but technical support is likely to lift them far above the forest fruits of today in terms of quality and quantity. Indeed, tomorrowâs sugarplums could be exceptional resources for reducing rural poverty. Sweet Detar For all its utility, this tree remains wild, but it seems like a rural development star in waiting. Although normally consumed out of hand, the fruit is processed into such things as dried fruit âleatherâ and refreshing drinks. Presently, the species is unknown in intensive plantations or even in extensive village plantings. Rather, it occurs in outlying forests or in farm fields where scattered specimens remain from bygone days when the land was cleared. The trees furnish excellent timber. Often sold as âAfrican mahogany,â the heartwood has a fine and regular grain and is eagerly sought for carpentry, joinery, and other premium purposes. Tree Grapes Already these are of commercial importance. In certain sections of West Africa they are eagerly consumed and the trees are commonly cultivated in and around villages. At least one tree-grape species produces both prized fresh fruits and long-lasting âraisins.â Wherever they occur tree grapes are avidly eaten; some already play a part in commerce. In West Africa, people commonly sell them in the city markets and along rural roadsides, and the grapelike fruits are âvery suitable for juices.â In addition, the bark yields edible gum, a reddish dye, and a fiber used for cordage and a lot more. The living trees provide poles and floats and fishing nets. Oil from the seed kernel has potential for soap and unguents; in Mali it reputedly strengthens the hair. Because of its shade and manifold bounty, tree grapes are typically protected when the land is cleared for farm fields. As a rural development tool it seems to offer much.
INTRODUCTION 207 SUSTAINABLE LANDCARE These days, environmental protection is of vital concern, the subject of solemn conferences and severe treaties. Yet for all the hand-wringing over land degradation, Africaâs wild fruits are seldom, if ever, regarded as part of the solution. This is unfortunate because promoting self-reliant fruits such as those described in these pages offer great prospects for keeping the continental landmass productive. Many of these wild species survive on marginal sites. Indeed, they represent one of the best tools for turning vast areas of what is now eroding, vulnerable wasteland to valuable use. They provide their food bounty without having to be cut down and without disturbing the land. And they give people a personal motivation to protect and preserve not only the trees but also the site and the associated ground cover. Unlike domesticated plants, the ability of wild fruitsâ to survive independently of humans makes them especially promising as land- protecting, food-bearing inhabitants of places where human presence is thin or sporadic and almost always vulnerable. As of now, many such threshold locales become abandoned, less to rejuvenation than to wreck. Clearly, wild species are a best choice for extending presence in wild lands. And seeing they provide food seasonally, or even only when calamity strikes, they do a signal service to both the site and the citizenry. The protection, establishment, and advancement of indigenous fruit- bearing trees can also help underpin sustainable farming practices. In fact, they might well provide shifting-cultivators food and income during the long wearying years while the land refurbishes itself. This âfallow/food- enhancementâ systemâwhich both protects the soil and produces something to eat or sell on the sideâseems well worth Africa-wide attention. At the very least, the wild fruits we describe are putative components in sustainable food production. They typically provide more than one edible product (a striking contrast with fruit trees grown in temperate zones) as well as non-edible benefits. For example, in addition to fruits, many are used by herbalists and other traditional healers. As a part of the natural landscape, they also contribute to both the environment and peopleâs inner welfare. They therefore offer benefits both physiological and psychological. Of course, wild fruits can never replace field crops, but they certainly can complement them in important ways. More than half of southern Africaâs land is unsuitable for conventional cultivation. The marginal areas in which farming is attempted remain grossly underproductive due to recurrent drought and chronic soil infertility. In such regions the augmentation of the naturally productive vegetation already in existence can promote nutrition, food security, and rural development. In addition, the plants can be established in hedgerows and along contours to stabilize the slopes, thereby promoting environmental stability while also elevating income and health.
208 LOST CROPS OF AFRICA Below is a summary of the merits, specifically in terms of sustainable landuse, of each of the wild fruits highlighted in the remainder of the book. Aizen (Mukheit) This plantâs endurance is remarkable. Shade-temperatures that reach as high as 45Â°C are far from rare in its habitat. Arid stony slopes, sand dunes, and cracking-clay plains are its bread and butter. This and the fact that livestock and wildlife leave it alone most of the year means people need not, as we have said, worry that their plants will be devastated by the desert or devoured by goats or gazelles. For this double security alone, aizen promises to be a practical way to protect erodible slopes, stabilize dunes, create windbreaks capable of keeping the ground unscoured, demarcate boundaries, and provide shelter for livestock and their owners. Further, aizen provides year-round shade where even slight relief from the sun is a great gift. And it also offers other utilitarian benefits in places where people need help in the struggle of life. Chocolate Berries Everyone likes having a chocolate berry tree around, and people already go out, gather the seeds, and deliberately plant their own. These 70 species include some specimens with exceptional promise in agroforestry and rural reforestation. Indeed, those might become standard components in the species mix employed to stabilize eroding slopes and abandoned wastelands across much of the continent. Among other advantages is their longevity. These trees are long-lived; moreover, theyâre never cut down irresponsibly. Even scraggly wild specimens are protected by societal rules and regulations. Almost everyoneânot to mention the environmentâbenefits from living chocolate-berry trees. Custard Apples With their notable sugar content, these fruits appeal as foodstuffs, but the plants fall far short of any ideal for environmental protection. They are certainly capable of surviving without human help, and they add value to wooded wild areas. Though not often stand-alone trees, their shade is also desirable. Thus, people tend to preserve and protect their habitat. But beyond that they are not particularly hardy and seem to do little to save the soil or improve the ambiance in any other exceptional manner. Ebony For African agroforestry projects, local Diospyros species could be especially valuable. People know and love these trees. As long as superior planting materials are supplied, millions are likely to plant them
INTRODUCTION 209 spontaneously and protect them from harm throughout a lifetime or two. Even now, volunteer plants are well cared-for. Indeed, African ebonies could become valuable not only for individual plantings but also for bordering streets and highways, for fencelines, for village squares, and for small-scale entrepreneurial endeavors of many kinds. Gingerbread Plums Producing vastly more of these tasty fruits under more organized conditions seems eminently feasible. Germinating the seeds is difficult, but most (perhaps all) Parinari species are easily reproduced via root suckers. These root cuttings also provide the key to propagating elite specimens. Through them, quality plantings could be quickly and easily established across much of Africa, clustered in villages perhaps, or scattered alongside roads in the valleys and tracks on the hillsides. Gumvines Adding vines as valuable as these might raise the economic worth of standing forestsâthereby dampening the ardor to burn off the land or cut the trees for lumber. Incorporating gumvines into boundar rows, windbreaks, shelterbelts, and ex-situ conservation forest are also possibilities. Species that cling and climb could be a way to increase the utility of many tree plantings that are expected to provide long-term environmental benefits. Icacina Icacina forms vast thickets that are about as close to monoculture as can be found in nature. Their denseness protects the soil, which otherwise is often subject to erosion and degradation. This is a feature that might well be turned to environmental advantage. Imbe This is an unusual and eye-catching small tree. Its dense, spreading, or conical crown topping a short, often twisted trunk or cluster of trunks makes a striking sight. Its attractive form, together with the year-around foliage and heavily scented flowers, make imbe a landscaperâs dreamâso much so that it is nowadays planted more for beauty than for food. This certainly opens it up to use for esthetic uses and bigger plantings, but this is probably the extent of its landcare advantages. Medlars Across southern Africa, local lore claims that the beneficent Vangueria infausta bears fruits heavily just before a big drought. In agroforestry the trees could find a notable niche. Already several Vangueria species are used
210 LOST CROPS OF AFRICA as hedge plants to demarcate fields and farms. The treesâ ultimate continental potential is probably more for back gardens, bare patches of hillside, village greens, or the verges of roads and tracks and rivers. Monkey Oranges The trees that yield monkey oranges make excellent additions to gardens, parks, streets, and fencelinesâproviding not only food but also shade, shelter, and erosion protection. Much more could be made of them in caring for the African land. Star Apples Regardless of food production, the various African star-apple species are promising for protecting and improving stressed sites. They could prove useful, for example, in land reclamation, erosion control, and, especially, in reducing wind-erosion. For their ornamental value alone these trees merit attention. People love having one standing beside the house. They might make useful reforestation species too. Fully grown, they top out at 30 m in height and 2 m in girth, and their hard, white wood is world famous for quality and high price. Sugarplums Farmers clearing land normally leave every sugarplum standing. These highly respected trees can usefully complement backyard gardens, agroforestry operations, and more. They seem ideal tools for protecting soil as well as for conserving habitat and native biodiversity. Sweet Detar Robust and resilient, this large tree is a candidate for reforestation purposes. Although this legume probably does not fix notable amounts of nitrogen, it survives in harsh, infertile sites and tolerates some drought and much heat. All in all, sweet detars seem likely to make good backyard, village, and street trees, providing welcome shade and environmental benefits, not to mention copious food. Tree Grapes Although these fruits look like grapes, they are borne on trees, not vines. Even where the fruits go unharvested, the trees are still revered. They coppice well and sprout with vigor, which makes them useful for hedges. While the environmental benefits have yet to be evidenced in practice, they could be so great that Lannea species seem promising for vast shelterbelts to settle the soil and make life more livable in their historical heartland across the Sahel.
INTRODUCTION 211 WILD FRUIT ISSUES We finish this introduction with passing mention of some strategic issues that seem especially relevant to the further development of Africaâs wild fruit biodiversity. INCREASING WILD FRUIT USAGE Even where wild fruits grow in abundance, their significance is seldom fully appreciated. Locals consider them merely free wayside snacks for enjoyment alongside the roads, paths, and trails they take to school, to town, to the bus stop, or to the pastures. Outsiders, notably scientific investigators, have often been misled because people so fail to value wild fruits they go unmentioned in such things as socio-economic and nutritional surveys. Also, strangers from the city or a foreign country typically measure only the foods in the house and âon the table.â To them, the idea of a separate world of foods snatched from living nature could seem unimaginable. Sometimes, also, outsiders are victims of translation mistakes. In a number of African languages, for example, the local word generally translated as âfoodâ refers only to cooked items, and therefore omits wild fruits. There have been few concerted efforts to physically integrate wild fruits into the mainstream of dietary development. Despite being integral parts of traditional culture, these are one of the most neglected of all African resources. To advance the greater use of wild fruits is an exciting area with high possibilities for benefiting scores of economies and millions of people. And the challenge may not be as great as might initially be assumed. Many of the following chapters attest that landowners already have a high regard for certain trees that produce wild fruits. Africaâs traditional shifting agriculture usually aims less at destroying such trees than cutting them back while keeping them alive. This is seen across many savanna areas. Of course some plants die when cut, but many re-grow from the stems and stumps, and thus provide a tree fallow that covers and protects and restores fertility to the site for the next round of crop planting. For this purpose, âedibleâ trees are in many places singled out for special protection. This is a valuable method of producing food, but increasing population pressure is seriously shortening fallow periods. Even stumps that re-sprout best are weakened and stressed beyond their limit if cut back too short or too often. A fast return to a fallowed site also reduces natural regeneration rates by retarding growth of plants too young to resist fire. Overgrazing is also a factor reducing natural regeneration rates. In addition, the wider use of animal traction or small tractors requires that stumps and roots be removed from cleared fields. And in forest zones, commercial logging opens land for shifting agriculture, meaning an expanding landscape where most species are stressed. Emphasizing wild fruits adds value to nurturing all such lands.
212 LOST CROPS OF AFRICA Even small improvements in awareness of bush fruits might well bring big benefits to localities in which they grow. Increments that perhaps seem insignificant could eventually be lifesavers to societies on a nutritional edge. Exploring the greater use of the wild resource offers opportunities for innovations of the most far-reaching kind. Edible wild plants might, for example, be utilized for purposes such as groundcovers, shelterbelts, street trees, windbreaks, hedges, roadside screens, or erosion barriers. People (and especially children) could then, as in the past, find nourishment on every hand. It is not difficult to imagine the establishment of âedible parks,â âedible watersheds,â wild-food reserves, year-round fruit gardens, âedible fallows,â and street trees and hedges selected so as to provide a year-round cornucopia of âkidâs treats.â Such notions are especially important for towns and cities, as other parts of the tropical world have learned. Even in the center of Quito, Ecuador, for instance, bus stops usually have a native capulÃ cherry tree beside them. This is mainly to provide shade and beautification, but schoolchildren feed themselves as they wait for the ride home after a day in the classroom. In southern Mexico, many town squares are planted with mango trees that provide food and drink to kids as well as many adults (especially the poor). And in India, an African fruit tree, the tamarind, lines thousands of rural roads, paths, and highways, mainly for shade and shelter but partly to sustain the hungry. DEVELOPING WILD FRUITS Keeping wild fruits wild is certainly an important aspect of the future for Africa. But many of the native fruit species also seem to be good candidates for improvement, domestication, and commercial production. Awaiting the adventurous plant scientist and eager amateur are opportunities to create a new cultivated crop and possibly transform their own lives in the bargain. The limitations of propagation can be overcome more easily today than ever before. And the entry of traditional products into long-distance trade is also easier than ever before. Thus in the decades ahead the world of African fruits could be made afresh. For developing most of these species, the first requirement is selectionâ location and propagation of individual plants that yield superior fruits. Some features that make a superior fruit include large amounts of edible pulp, small numbers of small seeds, attractive colors, marketable size, appealing flavor, low stringiness, freestone features, resistance to pests and diseases, and long shelf life. Perhaps most important is yield potential, for this is what puts money in the growerâs pocket and incentive in the growerâs head. Tropical fruit trees must be approached across a broad front because the majority of specimens are not worth propagatingâneither are the majority of wild apples, oranges, peaches, kiwifruits, and the rest. With most tree fruits, mass propagation of single âeliteâ specimens can turn a commonplace
INTRODUCTION 213 minor fruit into a major contributor. Oftentimes, only one plant in 10,000 (or many more) will bear such elite fruits. To find that one special plant, a person need not be a botanist, horticulturist, or other specialist. Indeed, the âlonerâ in a remote valley has a better opportunity of locating a winner in that genetic lottery than the scientist in the capital.6 With so much potential in wild fruits, many approaches to developing the resource are possible. In one, for instance, interested individuals could organize an âAfrican wild-fruit development association.â Chapters could be established in different countries, or in the cyberworld. Their purpose: to save and share germplasm, to exchange results, to inventory various promising locations, to gather folklore, as well as to stimulate broader interest, to develop recipes, and, most of all, to get superior types into hands of villagers, landowners, marketers, exporters, and other potential users. This requires little or no government funding, and indeed might be more freewheeling, more dynamic, and more successful if it springs from grassroots operations organized and energized by enthusiasts. Schools could be encouraged to record yields, pollination methods, lifecycle stages, and so forth. This approach has already shown success in Botswana, where a small company organized a nationwide competition amongst school children to find plants with the biggest and sweetest fruit of selected species. Substantial prizes were given. The results were rewarding, producing fruits of exceptional quality that are now being promoted for the countryâs benefit.7 Such generalized activities, while important and likely to bring success and satisfaction, can go only so far. Africaâs wild fruits offer such a wealth of benefits that formal research programs should also be set up all over the continent.8 In that way, horticulturists, plant pathologists, soil scientists, entomologists, foresters, and others can apply their training and experience to develop wild fruits. Examples of some specific technical needs are to: â¢ Reduce the often-long delay between propagation and first fruiting. â¢ Reduce the often-long delay between flowering and fruit maturation. â¢ Identify early-, middle-, and late-producing, superior genotypes for development into cultivars. â¢ Find how to propagate (both through seed and vegetative means), germinate, plant, and grow recalcitrant species. 6 It was an Australian housewife who discovered the 'Granny Smith' apple in the 1860s. The seedling popped up in her backyard after she had tossed out some old fruit. She recognized good taste and cooking qualities, and today it is one of the world's major apples. Her name was indeed Smith and she was a grandmother. 7 Recent information on this initiative can be found at www.veldproducts.org. 8 The "Cinderella Treeâ initiative of the World Agroforestry Centre in Nairobi (www.icraf.org) for domestication and commercialization of multipurpose tree species was a good example of this thinking, which seems to be taking hold among the broader research communities.
214 LOST CROPS OF AFRICA â¢ Select desirable traits and specimens for propagation. â¢ Determine the limitsâgeographic, phenologic, edaphic, and climaticâwhere a species can be successful. â¢ Develop horticultural techniquesâpruning, grafting, top-working, hybridizing, maintenance, orchard management, and more. â¢ Develop ethnobotanical, horticultural, extension, vocational, or other appropriate curricula for school levels from entry through post-graduate. â¢ Learn how to protect the plants from pests and pathogens. â¢ Undertake cultivar trials to prove efficacy of superior genotypes. â¢ Establish demonstration plots. â¢ Preserve the sources of wild fruits. The involvement of professionals does not obviate the need for the grass- roots plant-lovers. Both offer much. Indeed, the collaboration between eager amateurs and devoted professionals has been a most successful one in the United States, where several societies of rare-fruit enthusiasts (of all age groups and walks of life) work together to introduce new fruits to the nation, with much enjoyment and personal satisfaction along the way. Exemplifying what can be done is the Florida mango industry, in which enthusiastic amateurs selected most of the cultivars. Californiaâs avocado and date industries began similarly with amateur initiatives, as did several Australian fruit resources, including passionfruit, custard apple, and macadamia. NUTRITION In the exploration of wild plants there is of course much need for laboratory scientists in disciplines such as nutrition and food technology. Despite the importance of nutritional composition data, many of the wild fruits have gone unrecorded. If made available, nutritional information alone might convince planners of a speciesâ promise and potential. It is vital, therefore, to develop a nutritional database for the most important edible wild plants.9 For a relative pittance (at least in terms of todayâs research budgets), this could create nutritional and economic returns beyond measure. Indeed, a concerted program of information or education would likely transform the way rural people regard the small, concentrated-in-flavor fruits they find around them and often spurn. And along with the realization of the importance of wild fruits could also come care and concern and commitment to their greater protection and greater use. Helpful here could be the precedents of a dozen or more nations (from Scandinavia to Chile) that publicly disseminate depictions of nutrition pyramids or piecharts to induce consumption of local fruits and vegetables and a more balanced diet. 9 We wish here to recognize the pioneering work of A.S. Wehmeyer, who in a lifetime of dedicated scholarship recorded the basic nutritional constituents of over 300 of South Africa's edible species.
INTRODUCTION 215 SUSTAINABLE FORESTRY Africansâ abiding interest in food trees could be made into a driving force for future forestry efforts. The problem is that foresters have traditionally dismissed such species. In their eyes these may be woody plants but they typically have âbad formâ (that is, trunks not long and straight and properly rounded for the best production of timber). And they think of any food- producing tree as belonging to the alien sphere inhabited by horticulturists. Yet many of Africaâs wild fruits come from native forest trees. Of 1,000 indigenous trees growing in southern Africa, for example, more than 200 produce fruits eaten somewhere or another.10 Those tree-fruits may be eaten raw, dried, or mashed into paste; they may be eaten for health, hunger, or pleasure; they may be tasteless, astringent, or downright delicious. These comprise a vast forest food reserve, and such deep-rooted resources are urgently needed in these days when maintenance of trees is taking on greater and greater importance in sustaining a balanced environment. One particularly innovative concept, âsalvation forestry,â might well soon employ wild fruit trees. In this system, local people produce products in the forests in ways that ensure them a stake in the profits. The goal is to help the villagers to become so dependent on natural forest bounty that they become the fiercest of all conservationists.11 Perhaps there may also be ways to get credits for carbon sequestration or contributions to the conservation of biodiversity. Since only the fruits are harvested, these trees could also be seen as ideal for long-term credit schemes. Such local support is crucial because many countries are so overcrowded that poor people are spilling out into the forests and savannas in never- ending numbers. In the past, authorities attempted to protect endangered systems behind the guise of exclusionary laws, but even the best-run nations lack the massive resources needed to enforce legal protections in remote areas. Moreover, many of the rural peoples feel driven toward the food or cash they can get from turning forest into farmland. There seems no practical way to thwart millions, especially when they are desperate to survive. Salvation forestry, however, has a chance of succeeding. It is a âsupply- side conservationâ in which threatened areas now pay their way to survival. This approach is being adopted in several parts of the tropics. The organized use of wild tree-fruits could well improve the effectiveness of hundreds of efforts to conserve Africaâs wooded habitats. For these reasons, tree fruits should be incorporated into environmental programs, agroforestry, forestry, agricultural projects, and programs dealing 10 Palmer, E. and Pitman, N. 1972. Trees of southern Africa, covering all known indigenous species in the Republic of South Africa, South-West Africa, Botswana, Lesotho & Swaziland. A.A. Balkema, Cape Town. 11 The Food and Agriculture Organization's (www.fao.org) initiative for Promotion and Development of Non-Wood Forest Products has been one of the leaders in this area.
216 LOST CROPS OF AFRICA with sustained food security for the peoples of Africa. Taken all in all, wild tree fruits are good for the environment, good for the people, and good for national stability in all nations, but most especially in those under-nourished and under-performing climes that fall below the Sahara. SOCIAL DIFFICULTIES Of course, in developing fruit activities, obstacles will intervene. Some could arise from social issues confronted by any tree planting effort in Africa, including questions of tenure and of the traditions of planting or owning trees. Other obstacles will arise from traditions concerning specific tree species. The very act of valuating what was essentially a free foodstuff will require careful evaluation of habits and community customs. In countries where national forest services have a mandate to protect naturally occurring trees, including those which bear fruit, clarification of ownership of wild fruit trees planted by individuals or communities may be necessary.12 Should wild fruits ever become economically valuable on a level approaching that of mangos and citrus a new set of issues come into play. For example, growerâs need access to the land on which their trees are planted, so as to protect and benefit from the investment of time and money over the decades the trees remain productive. Many such social challenges must be considered when pursuing development of wild fruits. It is important also to realize that customary practices and even superstitions still play a strong role in the lives of many rural peoples. For example, in places some tree species may be designated for the use of specific groups. Similarly, the land-tenure system, in which land is communally owned (and also its resources, including trees for fruit), may militate against individual people planting trees. In some societies, such an act could arouse jealousy and suspicion and perhaps incur wrath by flouting inherited authority to âparcel outâ land. A stand of trees, after all, implies permanency of tenure.13 So, research on wild fruits should take account of both the sociocultural systems in which the trees occur and the farming systems in which eventual cultivation of these trees might have to fit. This multiple-use feature is of special significance. One of our most experienced contributorsâa botanist with a long lifetimeâs experience with African plantsâwrote: âIn general I feel that your search for food crops in Africa, in particular useful fruits, may be in vain. There are so many exotic fruit trees available that further new ones may be unlikely to repay the cost of development.â But then he added 12 It is interesting to note that the legal right to use and enjoy the advantages or profits of anotherâs property, called âusufruct,â arises from the Latin phrase for âuse of fruits.â It also bears the proviso that the property not be damaged or altered in any way. 13 For thoughts on these matters we want especially to thank B.N. Wolstenholme, who added, as if to reassure us, âThese problems are real!â
INTRODUCTION 217 as an afterthought: âAs I think over the matter, I realize however that while there may be few plants worthy of cultivation purely for their fruits there probably are quite a considerable number worth growing on a multipurpose basis. Among the uses to be considered: fodder for reserve use in time of drought; sticks for hut building and so forth; wood for carving; fiber; medicines; honey and beeswax; bark; roots; and seeds for protein and cooking oil. All these are often more useful than are the fruits eaten for taste, minerals, and vitamins.â In the view of this panel, it is worthwhile pursuing the full plethora of possibilities offered by the wild fruits of Africaâconsumption and commerce, as well as whatever else can be made from the plant or its byproducts. For too long, the spark of modern ingenuity has ignored these ancient foods. * * * The potential of Africaâs wild fruits to improve its quality of life has been emphasized in the summary outlines above, but they are also constrained by various limitations, all of which are discussed in greater detail in the chapters that follow.
DESCRIPTIONS AND ASSESSMENTS OF INDIVIDUAL SPECIES