Easier and faster processing of njansang heralds opportunities for local development

Ricinodendron heudelotii tree in Cameroon. Photo by Daisy Ouya/ICRAF

Ricinodendron heudelotii tree in Cameroon. Photo by Daisy Ouya/ICRAF

Ricinodendron heudelotii, locally known as Njansang (or njansa), is a forest tree found in Cameroon and other countries along Africa’s tropical belt. Women and children traditionally collect njansang fruit in the forest and undertake the labourious, time-intensive job of extracting its precious kernels for sale or home use. Njansang kernels—which are ground into a paste used to flavor and thicken a wide array of foods— are in high demand throughout the region and all year round.

But even with a large, ready local market, njansang’s slow and difficult processing stands in the way of unlocking its potential to generate more income for local communities; traditional processesing takes anything from 6 to 8 weeks to go from harvest to kernel, and a woman earns around $50 from the sale of njansang kernels annually.

To address this inefficiency, over the last several years World Agroforestry Centre’s (ICRAF)-Cameroon programme, in partnership with a community-based organization in Epkwassong village (Fa’a Si Obe), and an equipment manufacturer in Douala City (GFTI) have developed a method and a machine to dramatically slash the time and labour involved in njansang processing.

With the improved methods, processing time goes from months to a mere 8 hours. The extraction machine shells up to 30 kg of kernels per hour, compared to 1 kg per hour using the manual method of prising the kernel out of the seed coat using a sharp object.

Njansang kernels, whose paste is used in cooking. Photo by Charlie Mbosso, ICRAF-Cameroon

Njansang kernels, whose paste is used in cooking. Photo by Charlie Mbosso, ICRAF-Cameroon

In a new article in the journal Agroforestry Systems, Charlie Mbosso, Assistant Scientist with ICRAF-Cameroon, and colleagues from ICRAF, University of Ghent, University of Bonn, and the Czech University of Life Sciences, discuss the benefits of machine extraction and what is needed to increase the economic benefits of the tree to local communities.

“Mechanization allows producers to spend less time on njansang kernel extraction, and opens up opportunities to greatly increase household incomes,” says Mbosso. “If njansang revenues could match those of cocoa, it would make the tree’s farming more attractive,” she adds.

Sustainable value chain

Njansang extraction machine

Njansang extraction machine

This aspiration, however, will only be realized if the entire njansang value chain can become sustainable and better organized. In their article, Mbosso and colleagues advocate for various actions that would unlock the njansang value chain development:

  • The first is securing a stable supply of good quality fruit, through widespread planting of improved njansang trees on farms. The species has already been domesticated by the ICRAF WCA program, partners, and farmers, and community nursery owners are producing its seedlings for sale to farmers. Based on the cost of the machine and sale estimates, Mbosso says a production level of 24,000 kg of nuts per harvest season would make machine-processing profitable for farmer groups.
  • The second is for farmers to organize into groups and associations. Collective action by njansang producers is better for mechanized processing; the producers can also negotiate better prices for the product when they are united.
  • Third is for such farmer groups to be trained in business skills and marketing, so they are able to grow the njansang business and make it more profitable.
  • Fourth is the co-development (likely with a private-sector company) of the prototype machine so it can be fine tuned and produced more efficiently at a more affordable cost. The fine-tuning would also seek to match the quality of kernels produced through hand extraction; the machine currently breaks around 10% of kernels, compared to 6% for hand extraction. Broken kernels were one of the obstacles to farmers’ embracing the machine.

Dr. Zac Tchoundjeu, Regional Coordinator of ICRAF-West and Central Africa, who alongside ICRAF Director General Tony Simons and Roger Leakey of the International Tree Foundation, began ICRAF’s tree domestication work in Cameroon two decades ago, says njansang and other forest species have a promising future, one that involves processing beyond the traditionally known products.

“We have recently developed a technology to extract an oil from njansang. Analysis shows that the oil is extremely high in heart-healthy lipids, and this is yet another marketable product of njansang that could improve farmers’ livelihoods,” says Tchoundjeu.

Link to journal article: Factors affecting the adoption of agricultural innovation: the case of a Ricinodendron heudelotii kernel extraction machine in southern Cameroon. By Charlie Mbosso, Ann Degrande, Grace B. Villamor, Patrick Van Damme, Zac Tchoundjeu, Sygnola Tsafack . Agroforestry Systems April 2015

Download: Njansang technical slip (French)

Visit: ICRAF- West and Central Africa website

For further information and opportunity for partnership, contact Ms. Charlie Mbosso, Assistant Scientist,  ICRAF-Cameroon: E-mail: c.mbosso@cgiar.org

See new video:

See video on the harvest and processing of njansang produced by Cameroon TV Network- CRTV in collaboration with World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF)-Cameroon: Food for Life: Njansa, Opportunity in a nutshell

Related stories:

Mechanization perhaps not all it’s cracked up to be

Empowering farmers with knowledge and skills changes lives

A hard nut to crack

From obscure forest species towards a globally traded commodity: Lessons from Allanblackia

Besides njansang, the participatory domestication and value chain development of safou (Dacryodes edulis), bitter cola (Garcina kola), bush mango (Irvingia gabonensis), and allanblackia (Allanblackia spp.) is bringing about social, environmental, and economic benefits to communities.

 

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Daisy Ouya

Daisy Ouya

Daisy Ouya is a science writer and communications specialist with the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF). Over the past 15 years she has been packaging and disseminating scientific knowledge in the fields of entomology, agriculture, health, HIV/AIDS research, and marine science. Daisy is a Board-certified Editor in the Life Sciences (bels.org) and has a Masters’ degree in chemistry from the University of Connecticut, USA. Her BSc is from the University of Nairobi in her native Kenya. She has worked as a journal editor, science writer, publisher, and communications strategist with various organizations. She joined ICRAF in July 2012.
Twitter: @daisyouya

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