Preserving our indigenous fruits

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NTB

Well-Known Member
#1
Have you ever heard of Icheku, Ugili, Ukwa or Mmimi? These are the Igbo names for fruits that I enjoyed as a child, which were hawked on every street corner in Enugu. Please forgive me for being ignorant of their names in the other Nigerian languages.

However, regardless of which ethnic group you belong to, I imagine that you remember similar fruits from your childhood. Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to find these fruits in Lagos and they are increasingly uncommon in Enugu, and in similar cities and even villages across Nigeria. Instead, these fruits have been displaced by apples and pears from South Africa which are available through out the year, and depending on the season - oranges, mangoes, watermelons, pineapples and bananas from Nigeria are sold as well. While I have nothing against fruits that are cultivated on a commercial basis, I am saddened by the fact that our “rare” fruits and vegetables, many which have unique tastes, textures and medicinal purposes, are quietly disappearing. The reality is that as a people we never deliberately cultivated these fruit trees.

They were just a part of the landscape in our country – in our forests and scattered around our villages. We understood their seasonality, enjoyed the fruits that dropped from their branches and created and retold folk tales about them. However, with rapid urbanization, deforestation – in search of firewood, land for farming and construction, there has been no deliberate effort to preserve these unique species of plants. It is important to note that these fruit trees are a nature source of genetic diversity, which will be lost if these trends continue unchecked. In addition, it is likely that they have unique properties and could be used for medicinal or commercial purposes. Unfortunately, we will never discover their value if they become increasingly extinct. Which entity or group is ultimately responsible for preserving our indigenous fruits? Should it be our research and academic institutions, community leaders, extension workers or the citizens? Clearly, there is a role for every single stakeholder to play and the confusion and ignorance of specific roles has contributed in a large part to their rapid decline. Our research and academic institutions definitely have an important role to play in categorizing these fruits, determining their benefits and how they should be propagated, and disseminating this information widely.

It is noteworthy that some research has been conducted on the star apple, whose botanical name is chrysophyllum albidum – and is also called agbalumo by the Yorubas and Udara or Udala by the Igbos. This research reveals that the star apple has a higher ascorbic acid content than oranges and guavas. Early research from Covenant University which was published in the African Journal of Biotechnology also indicates that while the fleshy part of the fruit has significant vitamins and minerals, the seeds and the leaves could also be applied to a range of uses, including the management of heart and diabetic conditions in rats. Beyond the star apple, the kola nut tree has been widely recognized for its attributes and the numerous benefits that it provides in the pharmaceutical industry and there are many other fruit trees have been classified as “anti-malarial” trees – warding off mosquitoes or effectively treating specific strains of malaria. Clearly, a deeper appreciation of the value of our fruits will definitely change the way we care for them within our communities. However, this will require some interest on the part of our researchers, and private and public sector institutions that could serve as co-funders and partners in the dissemination of the research results and the commercialization of their application.

The World Agroforestry Center (ICRAF) has devoted some of its resources to educating the average citizens of various African countries about different approaches to propagating “rare” fruit trees. Through a range of radio shows aired in these countries, the organization encourages citizens to recognize fruit trees as an asset, create seedlings and replant seeds, among other techniques to ensure that they are preserved. To the best of my knowledge, the ICRAF programmes have not been implemented in the Nigerian context and there is definitely a need for similar interventions in our country. Our community leaders and extension workers also have an important role to play in encouraging citizens to actively protect and propagate these fruit trees.

In deed, changing our mindsets about the value of our indigenous fruit trees will not be an easy task – especially given that firewood is the ready choice for rural communities given the kerosene scarcity and the deepening poverty across Nigeria. However, armed with the knowledge about the real value of each fruit tree, I am convinced that the average citizen will invest in protecting and propagating these trees – not just for our generation, but for countless generations yet unborn!

Preserving our indigenous fruits
 

barbarellanoir

Well-Known Member
#2
Great article. Whenever I see the latest anti-oxidant superfood grace like Acai, Goji et,. I can't help but wonder about the untapped foliage in Nigeria.
 
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