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In this the International Year of Biodiversity, we profile work across three continents on domestication of wild fruit trees to improve both biodiversity and livelihoods. Our participatory approach is ensuring farmers can propagate species of use to them in their own nurseries and on their farms. We welcome our new board chair, promote some new research and invite you to view a short film produced for International Women’s Day. There are updates on our involvement in ongoing REDD negotiations, reports on recent VIP visits and a new version of the Agroforestree database.
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Unleashing the potential of wild fruits
African plum tree raised from a cutting in Cameroon
Bringing superior varieties of fruit trees out of the forest and onto farmland is increasing biodiversity and generating income for resource poor farmers on thousands of smallholdings in Africa, Latin America and Asia.
Domestication, or the process of capturing the desired traits of wild species, has been the basis of crop development for centuries. Conventionally, it involves developing new varieties to be grown in monocultures, often in large plantations. What is different about the World Agroforestry Centre’s participatory tree domestication programme is that local farmers play a key role in selecting, propagating and planting new varieties, as well as managing them in the environment. And it is the farmers who benefit most.
“We ask local people which indigenous trees they value most and for what traits,” explains Zac Tchoundjeu, Co-leader of the Centre's Global Research Project on Tree Domestication and Agroforestry Germplasm. Most commonly the response is ones with large, sweet fruit which mature early.
In Cameroon, these species include bush mango (Irvingia gabonensis), African plum (Dacryodes edulis), African nut (Ricinodendron heudelotii) and bitter kola (Garcinia kola). In the Amazon, they include three palm species: Aguaje (Mauritia flexuosa), Majo or ungurahui (Jessenia batauba) and Peach-palm (Bactris gasipaes), and two other fruit trees: Camu-camu (Myrciaria dubia) and Cupuaçu (Theobroma copuazu). In China, they include pine nut and walnut.
“Domestication takes advantage of the huge genetic variation which exists in the wild,” says Tchoundjeu. “Different trees of the same species can bear fruits that are sweet or sour, large or small”.
Amongst the high biodiversity of the Amazon are hundreds of wild fruit trees. The FRUTAM project aims to unleash the potential of just some of these for income generation and poverty alleviation, while ensuring genetic diversity is not lost.
The next step is for local people to help scientists identify individual trees in the wild which possess the desired traits. Germplasm, in the form of vegetative material, is then collected and used to establish superior ‘accessions’ at research sites and nurseries.
Scientists research how to best propagate superior trees so that large numbers of identical copies (or clones) can be available as soon as possible. Conventionally, new varieties are developed through breeding, but this can take considerable time. For superior fruit trees needed now, vegetative propagation techniques, such as rooting, grafting and marcotting, are used.
Farmers are provided with training in which techniques to use for which species, enabling them to propagate wild species in their own nurseries and on their farms.
According to Tchoundjeu, “the success of the participatory tree domestication programme lies in its use of simple, low-cost horticultural techniques which have an almost immediate impact on reducing poverty and improving human welfare”. Ten years ago in Cameroon there were just four farmers’ nurseries, now there are several thousand.
With more indigenous trees being grown on farms, the biodiversity benefits are apparent. It seems natural forests are benefitting too, as farmers who have improved their incomes are much less likely to exploit forests.
“The FRUTAM project is combining technological, socio-organizational and market innovations to tap into the biodiversity potential of Amazon fruit trees,” says Julio Ugarte from the Centre in Peru. “The aim is to provide tangible livelihood assets among local communities.”
"In China, mountain farmers earn 30% more from selling certified organic pine nuts and walnuts, says Jianchu Xu, senior scientist from the Centre’s China Program. “They practice chemical free management that enhances both soil fauna and water quality."
Professor Eric Tollens took over as Chair of the World Agroforestry Centre Board of Trustees in March 2010. He has been an active member of the Board since April 2006 and is professor emeritus of agricultural economics at the Faculty of Agricultural and Applied Biological Sciences of the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium.
New research on organic agriculture and fodder trees published
Centre scientists published outcomes of their research in March 2010 in:
Four days with Mary is set in rural Malawi and follows the life of Mary Sabutoni, a widow with eight children whose life is improving thanks to agroforestry and livestock interventions. This six minute film has been produced jointly by the World Agroforestry Centre and the International Livestock Research Centre (ILRI).
Negotiators and key stakeholders from 15 African and 8 Asian nations came together for workshops in Kenya and Vietnam in early March 2010 to chart a way forward on REDD and the role of other land uses in the fight against climate change. Participants analyzed outcomes of the Copenhagen conference, discussed regional perspectives and experiences and set plans in motion for the coming year, including kick-starting demonstration projects.
On 26 January 2010 we welcomed His Excellency Ali Mohamed Shein to our headquarters in Nairobi to learn more about the Centre’s research and development activities. The visit has paved the way for further collaboration on agroforestry projects to address climate change and food security issues in Tanzania.
A total of 670 agroforestry species can be searched in the new version of the Agroforestree database. Detailed information can be found about each species’ identity, ecology and distribution, propagation and management, functional uses, pests and diseases plus a bibliography. The database is designed to help field workers and researchers select appropriate species for agroforestry systems and technologies. Information is also available as species specific PDF documents.
A recent visit to the Centre in Nairobi by Mrs Pham Minh Thoa and Dr Pham Manh Cuong from Vietnam's Department of Science, Technology and International Cooperation will see enhanced collaboration, particularly in relation to reduced emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD). This comes just as the Centre is investing in additional resources to boost our work in Vietnam.
Transformations is produced by the World Agroforestry Centre Communications Unit.
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