Thursday, 31 January 2008

Fruits of Africa

The National Academies (in America) yesterday published a report on the native fruits of Africa. It is the third in a series, the previous ones having looked at native grains and vegetables.

Their suggestion is that tropical fruit production in Africa has been dominated for centuries by species imported from Asia and the Americas. Bananas and pineapples are examples. These fruits were already improved by selection and breeding programmes over the years and gradually displaced native fruits.

As a result native species have been neglected and forgotten, but if they received the attention of horticulturalists, they could contribute both to nutrition and the economy. Some are already cultivated while others are wild. They include fruits with intriguing names such as chocolate berries and gingerbread plums.

baobab fruit tree
Photo by Flickr user ElRabbit. Creative Commons Licence. 
Baobab fruit pulp can dried into a nutritious powder high in protein, vitamins, and minerals and used in drinks, porridge. It can be dried in flat pancakes and last for months or years. The leaves of the tree can be eaten too.

ebony tree
Photo by Flickr user Sanctu. Creative Commons Licence.

Ebony, above, has bright red fruits which are sweet and juicy and not unlike persimmons which are from the same family. Some varieties have edible seeds too.

Photo by B.navez. Wikimedia Commons.

Tamarind grows wild in Sudan. It was introduced to India so long ago that it is often thought to be native to there. It moved from India to Asia and gained the name tamarind from the Arabic "tamar hindi" meaning Indian date.

It is a fascinating report, and you can find the full 380 pages online.

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