Africa’s Indigenous Fruit

A report, by the National Research Council of America, the third in a series by the council called ‘Lost Crops of Africa’, appears to promote the domestication of the indigenous fruits of Africa as a solution to nutritional, environmental and economic needs!

Lost African fruits would benefit from technology, says report.jpg


I wonder how real this is? Many areas of Africa have abundant fruit, indigenous and other. But this only during the harvest, when in fact excesses develop because the production exceeds consumption. Fruit is of course much more perishable and more difficult to stabilise and store than cereals and tubers. This means that the household use of fruit is somewhat limited and that the industrial processing for conservation tends to be expensive.

To me this indicates that the opportunity is rather in the economic sector where products from Africa can address Western food and medicinal trends such as super fruits, natural products, herbal extracts etc

An example is the Marula tree, which has become the base of one massive (Amarula Cream) and one significant (marula oil in cosmetics) new industry in addition to the traditional industry (Marula Beer) but still hasn’t required domestication of the marula – possibly because there are sufficient wild trees or that there is an attemt to keep cash flowing to harvesters.

What do you think? The blog allows you to respond easily so please make your input.

2 thoughts on “Africa’s Indigenous Fruit

  1. Don

    Hi Dave, Thanks for this entry on LCoA.

    My impression of the series is that it is promoting more research on these various crops – domestication being one possible outcome. It’s been a while since I’ve looked at this area in detail, but I think it’s still accurate to say that there is a lot that is not known about the characteristics and varieties of even the most well known of these species. That for starters would be helpful. Another issue might be more clear quantification of production of the plants, and where trees that take a long time to get established are involved, what the state of the existing stock is – and whether it is renewing naturally (or with people planting it like baobab) at a sufficient rate.

    In some cases there is a net loss of producing trees. Maybe Marula in the wild is consistently producing surpluses, as you indicate, but Parkia biglobosa (locust bean in vol 2 of LCoA) in West Africa, just for example, is not – production is apparently declining. But how good is the data on either, let alone those that are less well known?

    In some cases, active planting of “wild” fruits could be an excellent measure for the environment and rural economies. But my impression (though I’ve been out of the field a while) is that this is not encouraged and in some cases neither foresters nor agricultural extension agents have little or no training in this either.

    Another area for research is on processing techniques. Seasonal surplus is of course what makes the Marula industries you mention work. But there could be more work on other species.

    Lots of stories and ideas but I’ll leave it there. In my blog entry on LCoA, I suggested the possibility of setting up a wiki to build on the info about the plants profiled in the 3 volumes of the series. The idea isn’t original, but if anyone got serious, do you think there might be interest from your project?

  2. daveharcourt

    Hi Don

    Thank you for your insightful comments. All of what you say makes sense. I believe though, that we should promote the economic use of these plants now and not only identify all that needs to be researched. My views are strongly linked to the Marula in South Africa about which I have quite a bit of information – some interesting points are:

    .Amarula cream which is based on wild fruit collected by the community is the second biggest cream liquor in the world with retail sales of hundreds of thousands of US dollars a year.

    .It was calculated in Namibia that the fruit required to meet the medium term oil demand required less than 20% of the available trees.

    .Tradition and customs still protect the marula tree.

    .Communities select, plant and nourish trees ased on their fruit production potential,

    .The nurseries established to sell trees in Limpopo have not been sustainable.

    My observation is that in Africa, we too often find the reason why things can’t work and demand data, strategy, legislation and research be funded before doing rolling up our sleeves and gaining benefit from the opportunities. The needs in Africa are overwhelming and we need to do simple things (like Amarula Cream) to bring immediate benefits to poor people without waiting to have the perfect system in place.

    Of course this has all to be done sustainably without damaging society, the environment or the resource.

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