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In this second issue of Transformations online, our feature story looks at the public-private partnership which is resulting in a booming trade in oil from the Allanblackia tree. As the dust settles after the 2nd World Congress of Agroforestry, we invite you to view presentations and summaries from many of the Congress sessions. We also direct you to news of our research, from a study into the extent of trees on farms globally to exploring human-termite interactions in Africa.
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A new oil boom
Around 10,000 farmers in Africa are benefiting from the emerging trade in Allanblackia oil. This is set to significantly increase through a public-private partnership which is setting a new standard for commercializing indigenous products.
Commonly found in the moist rainforests which stretch across Africa from Liberia to Tanzania, the Allanblackia tree has been used by villagers for centuries for cooking oil, medicine and timber.
In 2000, Unilever began using Allanblackia oil (extracted from the seeds of the tree) to make small quantities of soap in Ghana. When a sample was sent to their Dutch laboratory it caused great excitement. The oil was found to stay solid at room temperature but dissolve at 34 degrees; perfect for ‘melt in the mouth’ spreads such as margarine.
Unilever wanted to obtain a regular and plentiful supply of this ‘dream’ ingredient and so the Novella Project was established in 2002. The aim was to promote the sustainable harvesting of Allanblackia and create the organizations and infrastructure needed to collect, transport and process the seeds.
As Tony Simons, Deputy Director General of the World Agroforestry Centre (a partner in the Novella project) explains, “Very little was known about the biology and distribution of Allanblackia“. To meet the demand, Allanblackia had to be brought out of the forest and on to farmers’ fields.
Working with farmers, scientists undertook a domestication process to produce ‘superior trees’ that combine the best traits found in wild species: vigorous growth, regular fruiting and large fruit with many seeds.
Already, 100,000 of these ‘superior’ Allanblackia trees have been planted by smallholder farmers, mostly in Ghana and Tanzania. Millions more are expected to be planted over coming decades, with expansion into Liberia and Nigeria planned.
Says Unilever’s Harrie Hendrikx, “We wanted to make Allanblackia a crop which would benefit large numbers of African farmers and biodiversity at the same time".
With demand expected to grow to over 200,000 tonnes a year, smallholders in Africa could eventually earn USD 2 billion a year from the crop.
"Allanblackia is making a big difference to my family. With the money I’ve made, I’ve been able to buy things I could never afford before," explains Wallace Kimweri from Kwezitu in Tanzania, who has bought a cow an iron roof for his house.
There are environmental benefits too. The project has been careful to ensure wild harvesting does not harm the environment and that domestication enhances biodiversity. Planting on open farmland is attracting more wildlife as the seeds are favoured by many species.
The Novella Project is very much an African venture, with African research institutes, universities and NGOs playing a key role. It is showcasing how big business can profit from indigenous species without exploiting the environment or local communities.
Held in Nairobi, Kenya in August 2009, the Congress clearly signified a coming of age of agroforestry. Attracting around 1,200 participants and an impressive array of high-level speakers, the Congress featured rigorous scientific presentations, discussions on up-scaling and meeting development challenges and much more. It also attracted widespread international media coverage. For reports and commentary, visit the Congress website and blog
A new study by the World Agroforestry Centre reveals 1 billion hectares of tree cover on agricultural land globally. Using detailed remote sensing, scientists found that half of all farms have at least 10% tree cover while 160 million hectares have more than 50% tree cover. This is the first study to quantify the extent to which trees are a vital part of agricultural production in all regions of the world.
Digital Soil Map of the World
Two Centre scientists are among the authors of a Science article, August 2009 which calls for the use of digital technology to develop a freely accessible, fine-resolution, three-dimensional web-based soil map of the world. The Global Soil Map (GSM) project is laying the foundations for such work that will make soil information available for extension workers and policy-makers to help address some of the main challenges of our time: food security, climate change, environmental degradation, water scarcity, and threatened biodiversity. The article is available to those with a subscription.
This article in Ecology and Society demonstrates the important role of termites in the ecosystem; they can be indicators of soil fertility and their mounds used in low-risk crop production. It explores human-termite interactions in Africa and recommends future management build on farmers’ indigenous knowledge and an adequate understanding of termite ecology.
Held in June, the 7th Brazilian Congress of Agroforestry Systems allowed us to showcase our growing role in Latin America. Our seminar on Agroforestry networks and experiences in the Amazon featured 11 speakers from different Amazonian regions of Brazil and neighboring countries, including Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela.
Transformations is produced by the World Agroforestry Centre Communications Unit.
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