Namibia: harvesting and processing of indigenous fruits shows promise
FAO project helps improve use of wild fruit trees to supplement diets and incomes in rural communities
30 June 2004, Katima Mulilo, Namibia -- Green, fertile floodplains and perennial wetlands mark much of the Caprivi, an extremely narrow, flat strip of land jutting out from northeastern Namibia, wedged between Angola, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The region comprises 500 kilometres of grass and forests, irrigated by the Okavango and Zambezi Rivers whose seasonal flooding forces people to evacuate their homes and lands each year.
The northeastern communities cultivate sorghum, millet and maize on the fertile ground, but the nearby bush and forests have always been an important source of nutritious wild fruits. In the regions of Caprivi and Kavango, about 66 wild fruit tree species have been identified that contribute daily to the diets and income of the local communities, mostly during the rainy season when the crops are not ready for harvest.
"The Kavango and Caprivians have beyond a doubt accumulated sound traditional knowledge and understanding on the utilization of their indigenous fruit tree species," recognizes Syaka Sadio, an FAO forestry expert, who initiated and supported a two-year community-based project to assist the Namibian Government in enhancing the contribution of indigenous fruit trees to food security.
Promoting use of indigenous fruit trees in rural communities
The project, "Domestication, post-harvest handling and marketing of selected indigenous fruit tree species," implemented from 2002 to 2004 by the Namibian Government with technical support from the Forest Conservation Service of FAO's Forestry Department, aimed to provide local communities and national institutions with improved technologies for wild fruit tree domestication and processing for sustainable livelihoods.
"One of the major objectives of the project was to identify three preferred fruit tree species to be propagated throughout the region. Therefore, first, it was essential to assess the potential of the resource and select the species most preferred by the various communities living in the forest areas," says Michelle Gauthier, an FAO Agroforestry Officer.
According to Mr Sadio, project activities included transfer of technology and capacity building through exchange of knowledge and training for professional staff and communities in the selection and domestication of fruit tree species and in harvesting, storage, processing and marketing of fruit products.
"Further attempts should be made, however, to improve genetically and propagate the three selected fruit trees [marula (Sclerocarya birrea), eembe or bird plum (Berchemia discolour) and monkey orange (Strychnos cocculoides)] most preferred by local communities for their fruit quality and other desirable characteristics," Mr Sadio says. "Moreover, attention should also be paid to research on pest and disease control and quality fruit product processing, including establishment of small-scale rural enterprises," he adds.
Through training, the project enhanced the skills of local women in harvesting and processing the fruit. "We used to only eat them fresh and throw the seeds away," recalls Dorothee Manyemo-Maluta, a women's group leader in Kasheshe, near Katima, Caprivi Region. "Now, with the training here and a study tour I made last year in Malawi, where I learnt from other women, I can make juice, jam, jelly or drinks from marula," she says. "I can even bake an eembe-marula cake for my children."
A collaborative effort
Dorothee sells pots of eembe jam to her neighbours for N$10 (US$4) each. "Now, we know how to do it, but we would need our own house for our activities, and to be able to grow more fruit trees in our gardens and produce more," says Olivia Nshimwe, who is a member of the Egunda women's group in Rundu, Kavango Region, 700 km northeast of Windhoek, the capital.
John Sitwala, Senior Forestry Officer at the Katima Regional Office of the Namibian Directorate of Forestry, agrees that it will take some time before women's groups become independent of the Directorate of Forestry and rent their own location for fruit processing and marketing activities. "We appeal to all local stakeholders to invest in indigenous fruit tree species for the benefit of local communities, domestic trade and environment protection through the preservation of the plant biodiversity," he adds.
According to Esther Lusepani-Kamwi, Deputy Director of Forestry, Namibian Ministry of Environment and Tourism, who is also the project coordinator, the participation of small communities and farmers in fruit tree propagation activities should be intensified, as well as the involvement of more non-governmental organizations (NGOs). "The Indigenous Fruit Tree Task Force, at the national level, helps us to develop expansion strategies," she notes.
The task force was established by the government to allow members from various sectors dealing with indigenous fruit tree species to share their experiences and coordinate their activities. In this context, the Directorate of Forestry in the Namibian Ministry of Environment and Tourism is working with other ministries to put in place a strategic framework to promote sustainable use of indigenous fruit trees.
"Our partners in Agriculture have a good number of people based in rural areas doing extension work, and we are working together to make sure that the information is disseminated properly," says Namibian Director of Forestry Joseph Hailwa, noting that he also cooperates with the Namibian Ministry of Trade and Industry in setting up mechanisms to support small- and medium-scale businesses.
"We also work closely with a Namibia-based NGO, the Centre for Research Information and Action for Development in Africa (CRIAA-South African Development Community), and the Food Science Technology Division at the Namibian University," Mr Hailwa adds. The project partners agree that the transfer of small-scale technologies within the Southern African Development Community for processing indigenous fruits would greatly improve their production and marketing beyond villages.
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