Cultivating African fruit trees for health and environmental benefits

The importance of indigenous fruits in the diets of people in Africa and their untapped potential for cultivation is the subject of an article in Environmental Health Perspectives.

A training session at a rural resource centre Photo: World Agroforestry Centre/Charlie Pye-Smith

Farmers and researchers in training session at a rural resource centre. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre/Charlie Pye-Smith

Deforestation associated with an increasing population, the cutting of trees for firewood or charcoal and industrial agriculture has reduced the habitat of many indigenous African fruit trees. Trees, such as baobab, desert date, black plum, and tamarind, not only supply food, they also provide ecosystem services, including carbon sequestration, soil replenishment and biodiversity conservation.

“A growing number of researchers, conservationists, and plant domesticators are fighting to reverse the population declines these native fruit trees are experiencing,” says the article, profiling a number of projects in which the World Agroforestry Centre is engaged, including the following.

  • Participatory tree domestication in Cameroon where researchers work alongside local farmers to select trees from the wild which farmers want to grow. Farmers are trained in propagation techniques and supported to integrate the trees into their farming systems, such as amongst cacao or coffee. Read more.
  • Research into the nutrient content of indigenous African fruits as part of efforts to develop fruit tree portfolios that can provide year-round nutrition to complement staple foods such as grains, roots, tubers and pulses. Read more.
  • Work through the African Orphan Crops Consortium to map the genomes of 100 ‘orphan’ crops, i.e. those that have been largely neglected by researchers and the industry because they are not economically important on the global market. This research will enable plant breeders to select for traits such as larger or sweeter fruits, or seeds with a high oil content. Read more.

“The future of trees is on farms,” says Ramni Jamnadass, Leader, Tree Diversity, Domestication and Delivery at the World Agroforestry Centre, “If we don’t invest in them now, we will lose many of the species, as many of them are fast disappearing.”

Read the full story: Africa’s Indigenous Fruit Trees: A Blessing in Decline'

Kate Langford

Kate Langford is a consultant writer with close to 20 years’ experience in communicating natural resource, environmental and land management issues for various government and non-government organizations. She previously worked as Communications Specialist for the World Agroforestry Centre in Kenya and has worked in Indonesia, Laos, Vietnam and Australia. She holds a Bachelor of Science and a Graduate Diploma in Scientific Communication.

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