Farmers and other rural inhabitants possess considerable indigenous knowledge arising from their long utilization of NWFPs. This knowledge is chiefly documented through ethnobotanical surveys. Ethnobotanical information is essential for assessing plant diversity, intra-specific variation, selection of superior strains, adaptation and the introduction of NWFP species within traditional farming systems. The farmers' vision as well as their classification of biodiversity was applied in recent work on indigenous fruit trees in Nigeria (Okafor, 1990), and is presented in this paper. The problems as well as the prospects for conservation of biodiversity (including NWFPs) as perceived by farmers are essential in focusing and implementing research on NWFPs (Okafor, 1995). The potential for commercial exploitation of indigenous species is discussed. The major lessons learned from farmer-participatory projects, and a suggested action plan, are also highlighted.
Key words: Non-wood forest products, indigenous knowledge, genetic diversity, ethnobotany
Farmers and forest dwelling people possess a great deal of indigenous knowledge arising from their utilization of NWFPs and agricultural crops. Local people are aware of the extent of variation as well as the traits displayed by genetically superior individual trees or infraspecific taxa. This knowledge of tree-to-tree variation and consumption uses is valuable in NWFP research and development. This paper examines the genetic gain and other contributions made by farmer knowledge in the context of applied NWFP research, through extensive ethnobotanical and socio-economic surveys.
The information that local communities possess about their natural resources are concentrated on how plants are used, how plant resources are distributed across the ecosystems they manage, the classification and identification of plant diversity, and the relationships between plants, people and animals in their ecosystem (Eyzaguirre, 1995; Aameeruddy, 1994). Ethnobotanical information which emanates from ethnobotanical and socio-economic surveys and literature reviews often represents the indigenous knowledge of local people. The farmer's vision of biodiversity classification is also often crucial for NWFP research and development.
The procedure and methods adopted in conducting ethnobotanical and socio-economic surveys, which generate information on IK, (Shepherd and Okafor, 1991) consist of the following:
· Stratification of the area according to ecological zones, urban and rural setting;
· Selection of sample villages or communities;
· Village group meetings;
· Interviews with key informants using structured questionnaire forms;
· Study of natural resources of the area including uses of forests, wild and planted species;
· Traditional classification systems based on ecological distribution, taxonomic differentiation in relation to local cultivar designations (e.g. fruit types, phenological attributes etc.) and social symbolic roles;
· Field observation of the traditional farming systems including home gardens/compound farm subsystems and fetish groves;
· Market survey to document various products emanating from the local environment;
· Collection of herbarium specimens, seeds, seedlings and wood samples to authenticate the various products identified during the various stages of the survey.
Eyzaguire (1995) has stated that ethnobotanical information is essential for assessing diversity and adaptation of crops and that in eco-geographical terms "much still remains to be learned about socio-eco-edaphic diversity of crops, and to understand crop adaptation to micro-niches and micro environments". When collecting genetic resources of cultivated and economically useful species, ethnobotanical information (including cultural differences, the socio-economic systems, the institutional environment, as well as land use locations) is important in targeting the areas where collecting can capture significant variation within the species. Ethnobotanical information is also essential for identifying micro-environments and niches (spatial and temporal) within the farming system and its surrounding non-agricultural environments.
Finally, ethnobotanical data provides information on selection and intra-specific variation, the adaptation of plants to their environment (i.e. indications of a plant's competitive, complementary and symbiotic relationships with other species, and its resistance to pests and diseases). The application of ethnobotanical information is useful in NWFP research (especially in the domestication and selection of desired genotypes of fruit trees) within the forest zone of Nigeria, as discussed below.
The enormous range of forest species and their corresponding multivarious range of uses illustrate one aspect of the diversity of NWFPs in tropical West Africa. The existence of natural variation within fruit trees, resulting in well-defined intra specific taxa sometimes at varietal level, is another aspect of diversity. Both of these aspects of diversity are crucial in efforts aimed at the domestication of edible forest species (Okafor, 1985).
During the course of our research, nineteen rapidly-disappearing woody species were selected for intensive study by our programme (funded by the Biodiversity Support Programme of the World Wildlife Fund). These species were selected because of their importance as known sources of spices, fruits, nuts, seeds and leafy vegetables, and were identified by farmers as being of primary importance for their livelihoods.
The existence of intraspecific variation is useful in the selection, breeding and utilization of many tree species (Whitmore, 1976; Okafor, 1980a). Examples of varietal delimitation in West African fruit trees include Irvingia gabonensis (Okafor, 1975), in which one of the varieties was raised to the rank of species (Irvingia wombolu) by Harris (1996); Treculia africana subsp. african (Okafor, 1981b); and Dacryodes edulis (Okafor, 1983). These examples show great potential for extending the period of fruit availability, increasing the range of products and yield, and choosing the desired pattern, as well as the season of yield (Okafor, 1978, 1981a; Okigbo, 1977). Some taxa also exhibit intraspecific variation in traits such as more profuse flowering, early flowering, lower height of fruit set, greater yields of fruit, and better quality of fruits, than others (Okafor 1985).
Table 1. Species studies with ethnobotanical value (Okafor, et al., 1996a)
||Vernacular Name (ibo, English)
||Traditional Food Type|
udara, star apple
Aumeeruddy (1994) reports several accounts which support the view that traditional societies have their own systems of classification, based on the representation of the natural world. For example, plants may be classified into "hot" or "cold", according to wider symbolic representations of the environment. According to this mode of classification, all elements of the environment, whether inert or alive, are attributed a hot or cold value. Water is associated with cold. Consequently the rivers, springs and flooded low-lying land are cold, as are the plants associated with them. Any plant with fleshy parts and watery exudate is regarded as a "cold" plant. Plants with an acid taste are also classified as "cold", as are species with strong and persistent perfumes, such as Ocimum spp. and members of the ginger family, Zingiberaceae.
"Hot" plants are those with an irritant character (latex or irritant leaves) or very spicy perfumes. These are plants that release a hot essence which distinguishes them from other cold perfumed plants such as Ocimum spp. Spiny plants and plants which dry out soils (e.g. Imperata cylindrica) are also hot plants. The classification of plants as either hot or cold has various implications regarding plant use, notably medicinal and food plants, as well as agricultural practices (Aumeeruddy, 1994).
A second system of classification, founded upon symbolic representation separating plants into male and female according to functional, utilization, ecological distribution or morphological attributes, is also used in Nigeria. Plants are classified as "male" or "female" according to criteria such as the size and shape of the fruit, length of internodes, leaf pilosity (hairiness), etc. Some plants are also classified according to their distribution. For example, Uvaria chamea is found in distant farms and fallows which are called `uda ofia', the name by which the plant is also referred. This is distinct from some members of the Xylopia genus which are called simply, `uda', on compound farms.
Without doubt, these indigenous classification systems are fundamental in the identification and use of biodiversity.
The diversity and variation of NWFP species provide the basis for selection of superior strains. The first prerequisite for selection is the availability of information and distribution data on the species of interest. This requires surveys and exploration of natural forests, traditional farms, local and urban markets and relevant literature, as well as the identification, classification and general evaluation of NWFP species, e.g. indigenous fruit trees (Okafor, 1993). The second prerequisite is the study of their taxonomic variation and phenology.
As illustrated in Table 2, the following parameters or desirable characters were identified for three of the study species.
Table 2. Desirable characteristics for three highly valued agroforestry trees (Okafor, 1990)
· Fruit size
· Fruit yield (quantity)
· Lack of fibrousness
· Short time to reproductive
· Wide range of products
· High quality and value
· Fruit size
· Fruit yield (quantity)
· Pulp thickness
· Extended fruiting season
· Fruit size
· Number of fruits heads /
· Number of individual fruits
· Size of nuts
· Cooking quality
· Consistent fruiting (all year
In order to determine the suitability of potential inclusion into agroforestry systems of many of the species identified in Table 1, it is necessary to investigate the optimum means of propagation. Seed propagation and pre-treatments needed to ensure germination were investigated.
Table 3: Optimum seed germination conditions for selected species (Okafor, et al., 1996a)
Days to first germination
Remove testa and soak overnightwith cold water
De-pulp and sun- dry for 1 day
Bury inside plantain pseudo-stem for 3 weeks
De-pulp and air-dry for 2 days
Remove pericarp and soak overnight in cold water.
Bud grafting was also investigated and was successful for some twenty-seven of the species selected. This method of vegetative propagation has been reported to reduce fruiting age from 10 years or more to 2-4 years, and height of fruit at 1-3 meters instead of 8m or more, in several fruit trees (Okafor and Lamb, 1994, Okafor et al., 1996a).
As research information became available, training seminars and workshops were used to disseminate the techniques of plant propagation to participating farmers. The techniques of in-situ budding, as described in Okafor (1990) were demonstrated in the field and have been adopted on a widespread basis.
As a conservation strategy, the local farmers have been involved in establishing hedgerows with leguminous shrubs such as Cajanus cajan, Pterocarpus santalinoides, etc., and non-leguminous species such as Acioa barteri, Moringa cleifera and Ricinodendron heudelotii for soil enrichment and the provision of useful products (e.g. fodder, stakes, leafy vegetables). Many farmers also planted species developed in the project nursery (and their home nurseries) in their home gardens and traditional farms. Agroforestry practices such as the use of inter-planting, barrier-hedges, live fences, live stakes and alley farming were also adopted by many of them. In addition, the farmers participating in the project voluntarily formed a biodiversity conservation co-operative society which led to the establishment of a vigorous tree planting campaign.
During the technology transfer stage of the programme, the constraints or problems encountered by participating farmers were recorded and are listed in Table 5.
Table 4: Trees with edible parts successfully propagated by bud grafting in Southeastern Nigeria (Okafor, 1998)
Afzelia bella var. bella
Table 5: Problems encountered by representative farmers
Percentage of farmers response
Seedling mortality and survival
Lack of capital
Lack of seeds and planting material
Working tools and materials
Damage by grazing animals
Lack of available labour
Lack of water
Lack of land / poor tenure
Lack of knowledge on preservation,
storage and utilization techniques
Lack of knowledge on germination/
growing techniques of species
A number of food products from forest/farm species that have significant commercial potential have been described by Okafor (1991), Okafor and Lamb (1994), Okafor et al., (1996a), and Ejiofor and Okafor (1997). The products include jams, jellies and fruit juice from Irvingia gabonensis, Chrysophyllum albidum; non-alcoholic beverages from the powdered fruits of Treculia africana, health drinks from seeds of Garcinia kola and calyx of Hibiscus sabdariffa and seasoning from seeds of Piper guineensis, Monodora myristica, Xylopia spp. etc. Medicinal preparations from plant parts include balm for arthritis using leaves of Cassia tora, and an anti-malaria tea using Morinda lucida, Azadirachta indica, Carica papaya and Cymbopogon citratus. Medicated herbal soaps can be made with leaves of various species such as Aloe vera, Cassia alata, Azadirachta indica and Lonchocarpus cyanescens. The commercial exploitation of these species results in increased revenues and health care benefits. The value of these products has implications for both development potential and the need for large-scale conservation of the species on which they are based.
Lessons from the projects
The future of NWFP research, development and utilization in Southeastern Nigeria and other tropical regions, can be favourably affected by the lessons learned from the research outlined above. These are summarised as follows:
· There is great potential for the commercial exploitation of nutritional and medicinal uses of biodiversity, thereby justifying their large scale development and conservation.
· Local participation is greatly enhanced if the objectives of the project are geared to the needs and priorities of the local people who themselves have a great deal of indigenous knowledge of their socio-economic setting.
· The supply of various inputs and conservation education is necessary to promote the conservation and sustainable utilization of indigenous species in rural communities.
· Financial support and other incentives are required to stimulate and sustain conservation interest among local people.
· There are prospects for employment opportunities through the development of nursery procedures among participating farmers and their families.
· Farmers are able to prioritize their production constraints, including lack of cash, labour, land, planting materials, and improved propagation methods.
· Plant propagation techniques are useful for ex-situ conservation of forest and derived savanna species in home gardens and distant farms. This may counteract the unsustainable exploitation of wild resources due to large demands for food and medicinal materials.
Suggested action plan
In view of the tremendous importance of food and medicinal plants and the attendant loss of biodiversity due to deforestation and population pressure, the conservation needs/problems identified during these studies such as access to natural forest/woodland, the increasing difficulty of procurement of plant samples and the need for a coherant conservation awareness campaign, need to be addressed on a continuous basis. Prioritized suggestions for the increased use of medicinal and food plants in the rural economy of the local populace should be developed in consonance with the perceptions of local people, at the individual, community, local government, state, national, and at international levels (Okafor, 1998). Examples of such suggestions include:
· Training and information sharing;
· Organising and financing awareness campaigns through workshops involving community leaders;
· Organising enlightenment campaigns to generate awareness on the economic and ecological importance of medicinal and food plants;
· The enaction of by-laws for protection and conservation of the flora from bush burning and indiscriminate clearing;
· The support of conservation initiatives of local communities e.g. fetish groves (Okafor and Ladipo, 1994);
· The formation of village conservation committees;
· The provision of support to local and national herbaria for documentation of the national flora;
· The facilitation of training of requisite personnel for taxonomic, ecological and ethnobotanical inventories and studies, of forests and woodlands, in order to assess and demonstrate their conservation and socio-economic values.
Figure 1. Rattan drying (Photo: T. Sunderland).
Involving local farmers in the conservation and evaluation of the use of NWFPs has been shown to be a viable strategy for research, development and enhancement of the utilization potential of indigenous woody species in Southeastern Nigeria. This work has shown that there is an urgent need for increased applied research responding to the needs, opportunities and constraints actually faced by farmers themselves. These efforts should focus on helping to identify changing demands and emerging novel products that farmers could exploit. The potential of many of the selected species for agroforestry systems should be further explored for increased sustainable production and environmental protection (Okafor, 1989, 1990b, 1992; Shepherd and Okafor, 1991).
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