African Fruits Hold Great Potential to Combat Poverty
11 February 2008
Africa's own fruits are a largely untapped resource that could combat malnutrition and boost environmental stability and rural development in Africa, says a new report from America's National Research Council. African science institutes, policymakers, nongovernmental organizations, and individuals could all use modern horticultural knowledge and scientific research to bring these "lost crops" - such as baobab, marula, and butterfruit - to their full potential, said the panel that issued the report.
Today, tropical fruit production in Africa is dominated by species introduced from Asia and the Americas, such as bananas, pineapples, and papayas. Because these and other crops arrived on the continent centuries ago already improved through horticultural selection and breeding, they increasingly displaced the traditional species that had fed Africans for thousands of years. The imported species also received the support of colonial powers who wanted familiar crops that were profitable to grow, and indigenous fruits continued their downward spiral of dwindling cultivation and knowledge.
With renewed scientific and institutional support, however, Africa's native fruits could make a much greater contribution to nutrition and economic development, the new report says. Fruit trees and shrubs also offer long-term benefits by improving the stability of the environment.
The report highlights 24 fruits that hold special promise; some are already being cultivated in parts of Africa, while others are harvested from the wild. Examples are:
About the Report
The report is the third and final volume in a series that explored the benefits of reviving Africa's indigenous crops. Previous reports included Volume 2, Vegetables (2006) and Volume 1, Grains (1996).
The study was sponsored by the Africa Bureau and the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance of the U.S. Agency for International Development, with additional support from the Presidents Committee of the National Academies. The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council make up the National Academies. They are private, nonprofit institutions that provide science, technology, and health policy advice under a congressional charter. The Research Council is the principal operating agency of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering.
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