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Edible insects
Medicinal and aromatic plants
Moringa oleifera
Sea buckthorn (hippophae rhamnoides)
Shea butter (vitellaria paradoxa)


Bamboo attracts global audience

Delegations from four nations – Bhutan, Cuba, Ghana and Timor-Leste – will visit Guwahati in the next six months under the aegis of the Cane and Bamboo Technology Centre (CBTC) to acquire bamboo technology in a bid to develop the bamboo sector in their countries.

A five-member team from the Royal Bhutan Forest Development Corporation will arrive this week to chalk out modalities for having their artisans trained in bamboo technology. They will study bamboo plantations and bamboo processing equipment. Altogether 31 species of bamboo grow in Bhutan, probably the largest variety found in any Himalayan country.

Cuba is also rich in bamboo and skills in developing bamboo products would go alongside its tourism promotion policy. Bamboo provides good raw material for making furniture and complementary building materials; new technology, incorporated into existing enterprises, would help to boost tourism. The country is especially interested in acquiring skills in weaving bamboo mats. A two-member technical team from Cuba is expected to arrive next month.

Ghana is interested in cluster development (i.e. bringing artisans together in common facility centres to develop products) in the bamboo sector and would like to learn from CBTC experiences.

Timor-Leste wishes to upgrade its skills in building bamboo houses. Bamboo grows widely in the country and can be used for several purposes.

Employment generation is the biggest concern in all these countries and development of the bamboo sector could make a significant contribution towards employment. (Source: Calcutta Telegraph, 14 October 2005.)

Bamboo flavone for prostate patent approved

Tramford International Ltd announced that the patent for “bamboo flavone application in antiprostate disease drugs” developed by Future Solutions Development Inc. (FSD), the newly acquired subsidiary of the company, was approved by China’s State Intellectual Property Bureau in November 2005. Together with this approval, the same patent also received approval from Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), the international patent registration and administration organization. The treaty makes it possible to seek patent protection for an invention simultaneously in each of a large number of countries by filing an “international” patent application. FSD filed this patent under PCT for China, the United States and Japan. The approval is the first step for FSD to enter markets in the United States and Japan.

The scientists at FSD discovered that bamboo flavone is effective in relief symptoms of inflammation caused by prostatitis, prostatic hyperplasia and prostate cancer. About 50 percent of all men are affected by prostate illnesses during their lifetime. The bamboo flavone, as a natural extract ingredient, poses no long-term side effects and is a viable option in fighting these illnesses. (Source: Tramford International Press Release, 23 November 2005.)

Bamboo solution to lake pollution

The World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) has launched a bamboo project on the Lake Victoria Basin as a solution to water pollution. ICRAF was asked by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency to develop an ecological wastewater treatment that would serve the dual function of filtration and purification of polluted Lake Victoria waters.

The development comes in the wake of reports by the Lake Victoria Environmental Management Project (LVEMP) that Lake Victoria’s pollution has reached alarming levels. The Lake Victoria Basin supports a population of 30 million people who depend on its waters but only 30 percent have access to clean water. Water-borne diseases such as cholera, typhoid and dysentery are common in about 90 percent of the population.

However, the report, written by ICRAF scientists Willy Kakuru and Chin Ong, says that bamboo is a promising alternative since it can take up nitrogen, phosphorus and heavy metals. These metals are attributed to pollution of some of the aquatic ecosystems.

The ICRAF project has already started pilot sites in Kisumu to demonstrate bamboo’s potential for wastewater treatment. The main focus is to expand the project to the whole Lake Victoria Basin, including Uganda, Rwanda and the United Republic of Tanzania. Pilot activities are soon to be extended to Kampala and Mwanza and later to other towns on the lakeshore.

The project is expected to offer great potential for income and employment for communities around the Lake Victoria Basin.

The report says that in China the annual export value from bamboo products is estimated to be more than US$600 million, with the total value of the bamboo industry estimated at
$12 billion, almost double the total gross domestic product (GDP) of the three East African countries. According to the scientists, promotion of value addition in bamboo products will create an incentive for planting bamboo.

Since indigenous bamboo is now restricted to mountainous areas and is a government protected resource, ICRAF says that there is an urgent need to diversify bamboo species and products.

Further plans include the promotion of linkages to markets for bamboo products and improving the skills of local artisans in the efficient use of bamboo raw materials for high-value products. (Source: East African [Kenya], 7 November 2005.)

Bamboo houses

The lean, tall and gracious bamboo is an ecofriendly natural resource of great utility that has been meeting the wide-ranging needs of human society from time immemorial.

Indonesia is the world’s largest producer of bamboo. About half a million people in Southeast Asia derive their employment directly from bamboo cultivation, extraction and processing. From birth to death, bamboo plays a crucial role in the lives of millions. China has succeeded in turning bamboo into a lucrative foreign exchange earner through the production and export of many innovative bamboo products.

India, which has the second highest resource of bamboo in the world (bamboo forests cover 10.03 million ha – 12.8 percent of the country’s forests), is also planning to exploit the global market for bamboo products. There is a huge demand and supply gap insofar as bamboo is concerned: the supply of bamboo at present is about 13.47 million tonnes, while demand is pegged at 26.9 million tonnes. India hopes to overcome the gap by raising commercial bamboo plantations. According to the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR), the Indian bamboo industry is estimated to grow to a US$5.7 billion sector by 2015, as against the $174 million sector in 2000.

A large proportion of the tribal population in the country is dependent on bamboo for its livelihood. In Karnataka, Medhara tribals who have been making a living for centuries through bamboo products are finding it hard to make ends meet on account of an acute shortage of bamboo.

Possibly no other natural species is used to make as many products as bamboo. From the traditional weapons of the aboriginals to the scaffoldings of modern high-rise buildings, bamboo continues to play a role in human civilization.

In recent years, there has been a growing emphasis on promoting the cultivation of bamboo varieties. Bamboo that has traditionally been used in paper and rayon production is now being used for buildings in many parts of the world. In Bangalore, the Indian Plywood Industry Research and Training Institute has developed the technological elements for building dwellings with reinforced bamboo. There is a move to popularize the cost-efficient and ecofriendly bamboo houses in both the rural and urban areas of India. The Bangkok-based Asian Institute of Technology (AIT) has played a key role in popularizing bamboo houses in rural pockets of Thailand, with a high degree of success. (Source: Central Chronicle [India], 21 November 2005.)

(Please see pp. 29 and 30 for more information on bamboo.)


Just as sweet as a chestnut

The chestnut, also known as sweet chestnut, originally from Asia Minor, was first introduced to Europe by the Ancient Greeks. In the poorer, mountainous regions of the Mediterranean, where even the humblest cereals cannot be grown, the chestnut has long been a dietary staple: dried and ground into flour and made into bread or soup; and fed to pigs to give their meat a more nutty taste.

Chestnuts are the only nuts to contain significant amounts of vitamin C; amazingly, 100 g of chestnuts contain as much vitamin C as 100 g of lemons. They are beneficial in building resistance to infection, particularly the common cold, and contain antioxidant nutrients that help to protect against cancers, heart disease and stress and promote healthy gums and bones. It is no wonder that the seventeenth century herbalist John Evelyn recommended chestnuts for a good complexion, while his contemporary Nicholas Culpeper suggested that they prevent scurvy. Vitamin C is used in many skin care products as it helps in the formation of collagen, the skin’s support fibre, and improves skin texture.

Chestnuts also contain minerals – phosphorus and potassium in particular – which are essential for nerve function, muscle control, blood pressure control and heart health. They are rich in complex carbohydrates and are, therefore, a good source of energy.

Grinding chestnuts into flour offers a gluten- and cholesterol-free alternative for making bread and pasta; ideal, not only for those who are wheat-intolerant, but also for anyone looking for variety and a rich, distinctive flavour.

Chestnuts have a lower protein content than most nuts and, unlike other nuts, have little oil, making them lower in fat and calories. They are also a good source of fibre.

Absolutely nothing is “done” to chestnuts; they are an unadulterated wild food and the spiky husks are discarded on the forest floor to turn to mulch, acting as natural compost. (Source: The Times online [United Kingdom], 19 November 2005.)

Scientists trying to resurrect American chestnut trees

Chestnut trees used to be as plentiful in the eastern United States as oaks and maples are today. About 25 percent of forested land, stretching from Maine to northern Georgia, was composed of chestnut trees. They were big, substantial trees, some surviving 400 years, often measuring more than 8 ft (2.4 m) in diameter and reaching 120 ft (36.6 m) into the sky, filled with nuts, having long, thin green leaves and, starting around mid-June, tiny blooms.

But the tree known as the “redwood of the East” because of its resistance to rot and its value as lumber is now an extremely rare treasure in a region where it was once abundant. Sometime in the late 1800s, a different variety of chestnut tree, perhaps from Asia, was imported into the United States carrying blight. The affliction was not discovered until 1904, and it was soon determined that the American chestnut tree was not resistant to the disease.

Over the next 50 years, 4 billion chestnut trees, about 99.9 percent of the eastern population, succumbed.

The loss proved tragic on several counts. Residents of Appalachia lost a steady income from lumber and nuts – chestnuts at one time produced about
50 percent of the entire forest nut crop. Wildlife also suffered because the once bountiful food supply all but disappeared.

However, more than 50 years after the tree bordered on extinction, an effort is now under way to bring back the chestnut. Scientists are working to develop a blight-resistant strain in the rolling hills of southwestern Virginia, and there is hope that sometime towards the middle of the century the chestnut tree will come home. “Our goal is to restore the American chestnut to the eastern forest,” said the president and chief executive officer of the American Chestnut Foundation.

Accomplishing that ambitious objective is going to take time. The foundation is in the third year of what stands to be a 30-year project. But results thus far show promise and there is optimism that the venture ultimately will become the most successful nature restoration programme in the nation’s history. (Source: Scripps Howard News Service, 16 November 2005.)


Wine company abandons cork stoppers

Concerned by overwhelming proof that a significant amount of wines sealed with traditional tree bark cork are spoiled by cork taint, Don Sebastiani & Sons today announced that they will focus exclusively on using alternative closures for their entire product line. With annual case production approaching two million, the company is now the largest wine company in the world to abandon totally the traditional cork closure.

Cork taint occurs when natural mould in corks causes a chemical reaction that produces trichloroanisole, commonly called TCA. The compound can give wine an unpleasant, musty odour. (Source: Business Wire (press release) [United States], 8 August 2005.)

Alcan seeks to turn tables on cork diehards

Montreal-based aluminium giant Alcan Inc. is in the forefront of the movement to convert cork diehards to the view that screw caps really are better, notwithstanding their hard-to-shake association – in the minds of many – with cheap jug wine. The key reason for the switchover is that inert screw caps are a superior seal against oxygen, whereas about 10 percent of wines stopped with cork are affected by cork taint. Cork taint can deaden a wine’s subtle and complex flavours or leave it smelling musty and bad-tasting, according to the industry. Screw tops are also better at maintaining freshness than either natural or synthetic corks, according to studies. (Source: Globe and Mail [Canada], 7 November 2005.)

Conserving cork forests in the Mediterranean

In recent years, the use of cork alternatives, specifically plastic wine bottle stoppers, has been increasing. Their use threatens the economy, environment and cultural traditions of the cork-producing regions of western Spain and eastern Portugal where cork oak trees (Quercus suber) dominate large swaths of the Iberian Peninsula. In the cork-producing areas of the Peninsula, cork oak forests (montados) represent around 21 percent of the forest area and are responsible for the production of more than 50 percent of the cork consumed worldwide.

Careful forest management provides for the continued removal of the cork oak’s bark in a cycle of nine to fifteen years, while helping to maintain a unique ecosystem of high biodiversity and creating the conditions for a diverse range of woodland products. Villagers gather edible fungi for their own consumption, use rockrose bushes for firewood in their traditional stone bread ovens and tap local beehives for honey flavoured with native lavender and rosemary. On even a small patch of cork land a farmer can raise a herd of goats, a few cows and some pigs, which forage for acorns and graze beneath the trees.

The recent growth of synthetic cork has prompted concern that by threatening traditional cork production, these new stoppers could undermine the economic basis of cork harvesting and thereby the cork-producing areas. Economic pressures could force farmers to convert their forests, which would disrupt the natural ecosystem, increase erosion and lead to possible desertification.

The Rainforest Alliance is working with the cork industry and cork landowners in Portugal, Italy and Spain, helping them to meet the conditions for Forest Stewardship Council certification. The SmartWood certification of cork forests paves the way for the conservation of one of the last remaining natural forest ecosystems in western Europe and with it, the environmental, economic and cultural stability of the cork-producing regions. The Alliance is also working to educate consumers about the fact that cork can be harvested sustainably and in harmony with the environment. (Source: Rainforest Alliance, 2004 Annual Report and Rainforest Matters [rainforestalliance@].)

Edible insects

Creature-eating source of income and nutritious food

As Mexico’s centuries-old tradition of eating insects becomes more lucrative, researchers are trying to convince poor communities to cash in on eating the creatures as a source of income and nutritious food. With a protein content almost twice that of beef, some insects could become a welcome diet supplement among the estimated 20 million Mexicans who live in extreme poverty on incomes of US$1/day or less.

In many towns, especially in southern Mexico, insects are a regular part of the diet and although many Mexicans are still repulsed by the thought, the insect-eating movement is winning converts in a variety of ways. Consider the chocolate-covered locusts, locusts in sweet sauce, worm Jell-O and worms covered in clear, hard candy invented by biologist Juan Garcia Oviedo of the National Polytechnic Institute of Mexico. They have been a big hit in test groups and children love them.

Farmers on the outskirts of Mexico City were spending large amounts of money on pesticides to kill grasshoppers, Garcia Oviedo said, until they found they could get more money for the edible bugs at local markets than for their crops. It is also more environmentally sound, researchers say, noting that in Aztec times, pest control was accomplished largely by eating rather than spraying.

In Tlaxcala state, maguey worms are raised all year. Currently available only in certain seasons, farmers can now produce the worms throughout the year by using cut maguey leaves and in vitro production of larvae. Increased availability would improve the market for the sought-after white and red wrinkly worms – actually caterpillars – which are fried and sold with butter and garlic for as much as $40 for 12 at some upmarket Mexican restaurants, about 15 times the price paid to those who gather them.

The insect renaissance also seeks to revive ancient practices in Mexico, such as “hidden” insect ingredients, for those too squeamish to swallow a locust whole. In some villages in southern Mexico, insect “contamination” is hardly accidental. A few ground-up insects are added to hot chilli salsa in villages as a nutritional boost. Garcia Oviedo applies that same principle to modern products, such as grinding up grasshoppers into hot dogs and enriching tortillas by adding a high-protein powder made from milling less commercially valuable larvae. Nevertheless, Mexican food safety standards treat insect content as contamination, rather than as a potential main ingredient.

The biggest challenge, however, is reviving an appetite for some of the estimated 360 insect species that the Mexicans’ ancestors used to eat, such as stink bugs, honey ants, beetle grubs, water beetle larvae, bees and fly eggs. So far, Garcia’s test groups have been successful. (Source: EITB [Spain], 14 June 2005.)

Insectes comestibles au Sud-Bénin

Plus de 500 espèces d’insectes sont consommées par les humains dans les régions tropicales et subtropicales. La pratique de l’entomophagie contribue à compenser les carences en protéines et en lipides par rapport à la viande de poulet et de porc. La demande mondiale de viande s’accroît et il devient important de trouver des sources alimentaires ayant un meilleur rendement. Les insectes sont consommés depuis plusieurs décennies au Bénin, renferment une source très importante en protéines animales pouvant remplacer valablement certaines viandes et ainsi lutter contre la malnutrition infantile. Une étude préliminaire a été menée pour répertorier sommairement les insectes de quelques régions du Sud-Bénin. Au total, quatre espèces sont comestibles: Ormesson spp., Rhynchophorus phoenicis, Brachytrupes membranaceus et Macrotermes falciger. Les espèces Macrotermes falciger et Oryctes spp. sont plus consommées que les autres. Les différents résultats sont dus aux espèces consommées, aux techniques de récolte, aux usages culinaires, aux communautés consommatrices et à l’importance économique. Les premiers résultats obtenus nous permettrons de faire des travaux sur l’analyse chimique des différents insectes répertoriés et de déterminer les taux de pourcentage en protéine, lipides et la valeur calorique.

Cette première étude fait partie des priorités du Plan d’action pour la biosécurité en République du Bénin, la conservation et pour l’utilisation durable des ressources biologiques (Article 6 b, page 7 de la Convention sur la diversité biologique). (Contribution de: M. Sévérin Tchibozo, Centre de recherche pour la gestion de la biodiversité et du terroir 04 B.P. 0385 Cotonou, Bénin. Télécopie:
+229 21303084; courriel: [email protected]; site Web:;

Edible insects on sale in the United Kingdom

Add a chocolate coating and apparently people in the United Kingdom will eat anything – even ants, scorpions and worms. London’s Fortnum & Mason store has started stocking a range of novelty drinks and nibbles containing the insects, as well as hornets and snakes.

The bizarre bites apparently boost energy levels and the libido and are coated in honey, chocolate or vodka in order to help the medicine go down.

Tom Dalton, the founder of Edible which produces the insect appetizers, said: “We are shifting about 750 000 units a year and Fortnum & Mason sold around 1 500 of our giant ants covered in chocolate in the last two weeks alone”.

Animal rights activists claim that the treats are twisted and cruel. (Source: DeHavilland [United Kingdom], 31 October 2005.)


Ginseng guidelines

An international standard on ginseng will take several more years to be adopted, as discussion at the Codex Commission yesterday revealed a wide difference of opinion on the scope of the standard. The standard proposed by the Government of the Republic of Korea a few years ago has made slow progress with Codex decision-makers because of diverse opinions as to ginseng’s status and the significant number of different species on the market.

In some countries, including within Europe, ginseng is not listed as a food ingredient. A Codex guideline would recognize its status at international level as a food. (Source: Food Navigator [France], 5 July 2005.)

Root of the matter in the Republic of Korea

The largest ginseng producer in the Republic of Korea is poised to cash in on the Chinese public’s increasing appetite for health care products with Korean red ginseng expecting to become the latest “Korean wave” export to hit China. The Korea Ginseng Corporation (KGC) has been producing red ginseng for more than 100 years; Cheong-Kwan-Jang is the top brand in the Republic of Korea. KGC expects annual sales in the Chinese market to reach US$30 million next year.

There are three main types of ginseng: “Asian ginseng”, a collective term used to refer to the Chinese and Korean varieties, American ginseng and Siberian ginseng. The best Asian ginseng grows in the eastern regions between 30° and 48°N latitude. This area includes northeast China’s Jilin Province and the Korean Peninsula.

Today, authentic wild mountain ginseng is very difficult to find. People now cultivate it in fields.

Korean ginseng is categorized into three types, according to the processing methods used: fresh or raw ginseng is unprocessed, with its original shape intact; white ginseng is peeled and dried in the sun; and red ginseng is steamed and dried to a brown hue and can be kept for longer.

KGC’s sales reached 305 billion Korean won ($290 million) in 2004; 70 percent of its products are for domestic consumption. Its exports reached $55 million in the same year; approximately $27 million of which were exports to Hong Kong SAR and the Chinese mainland. (Source: China Business Weekly, 7 November 2005.)

Ginseng export restrictions toughened in the United States

The United States Fish and Wildlife Service issued a ruling this month that it is increasing the age limit for ginseng (American ginseng, Panax quinquefolius) roots eligible for export from five to ten years this season. The five-year age restriction, enacted in 1999, was the first ever on ginseng exports. The change is meant to halt the rapid disappearance – caused by overharvesting – of wild ginseng on private land and in national parks and forests. The age restriction also applies to ginseng grown under simulated wild conditions unless the grower obtains an exemption from the agency.

Ginseng is a slow-growing, long-living perennial herb. The age of ginseng can be determined in two ways: by counting the scars on the plant’s underground stem caused by the yearly loss of its above-ground stem or by counting the number of above-ground compound leaves, also known as “prongs”. Plants with three prongs are five years old and those with four prongs are ten years old.

The primary market for ginseng is overseas. Most of the dried root goes to East Asia, where it has been prized for centuries for medicinal properties.

Hunting ginseng to generate extra cash – at least US$250/lb (453.6 g) – has long been a practice among some residents of the Appalachian Mountains. Virginia is one of the largest exporters of ginseng in the nation and with West Virginia accounts for approximately 18 percent of the 60 000 lb (27 200 kg) annual national harvest. In the past three years, the state agriculture department certified 4 000 lbs (1 800 kg), 5 000 lbs (2 270 kg) and 3 600 lbs (1 633 kg) of ginseng for export at an annual value approaching $1 million. (Sources: [United States], 12 August 2005 and Southern Standard [United States], 25 September 2005.)


Honey used as an antibiotic

Australian researchers have found honey to be effective as an antibiotic cream to prevent infections when applied to catheter sites in kidney dialysis patients. Kidney specialist David Johnson said honey also had an advantage over the commonly used antibiotic ointment, mupirocin, in that hospital “superbugs” such as Staphylococcus aureus, commonly known as golden staph, had not developed resistance to it. “There are no documented cases of honey-resistant bacteria,” Professor Johnson said. (Source: [Australia], 26 August 2005.)

Honey’s healing qualities stump scientists

A type of honey produced in northern New South Wales has attracted interest from scientists and doctors for its healing properties. Doctors are recommending jelly bush honey to help treat ulcers, burns and sores. But scientists cannot work out the honey’s active ingredient.

Dr Craig Davis, from Queensland’s Department of Primary Industries, says he has spent years researching the jelly bush honey’s antibacterial properties. “I can’t put a name to it; it’s a floral chemical that the tree makes and secretes into the nectar that the bees collect,” he said. “When the bees have collected that nectar they put it into the honey and when the honey is used it seems to have this additional factor.” (Source: ABC Regional online [Australia], 10 September 2005.)

Honey production in Malaysia

Malaysia’s Agriculture and Food Industry Minister said local farmers should consider venturing into honey production to offset imports of related products. He described honey as a lucrative commodity, which could provide at least RM2 500 a month. Malaysia imported some 2 520 tonnes of honey worth RM17.6 million last year and Sabah imported 49 tonnes worth RM1 million during the same period. The Government’s aspiration is to make Malaysia one of the major honey producers in the world, he added.

The honey bee species Apis cerena is unique, thriving on acacia trees, coconut plantations and pristine jungles for its food and nectar, available mainly in Kudat, Kota Marudu and Pitas. In this respect, people were urged to refrain from indiscriminate felling of trees, an action that could reduce the food resources of these bees, he said.

The Government has allocated RM200 000 this year as start-up capital for farmers in Sabah interested in promoting the honey industry. (Source: Daily Express [Malaysia], 20 September 2005.)

Honey exports from Nepal to the European Union likely to resume

Exports of Nepali honey, once greatly in demand in Europe, are likely to resume soon as a result of the latest efforts being made in quality testing for European standards.

The European Union banned the import of Nepali honey in 2002, stating that its quality did not meet European standards. The use of pesticides in beekeeping and brood harvesting was a major reason for halting honey exports completely for the last three years.

Nepali honey is famous in Europe, especially in Scandinavian countries, and about 100 tonnes of honey used to be exported from Nepal every year. (Source: Xinhuanet [China], 26 October 2005.)

Brazilian honey has flavours and colours for all tastes

Brazil is the seventh largest producer and exporter of honey in the world. In 2004 honey exports exceeded US$43 million, with a volume of 21 400 tonnes, i.e. 47.5 percent of the yearly production of 45 000 tonnes. This position was reached as a result of the quality and variety of the honey, mostly wild, and also to the space left open by China, which faced sales restrictions because of the use of pesticides in production. In fact, in 2001 China, the largest honey producer in the world with 275 000 tonnes/year, was prohibited from exporting because of the strong presence of pesticides in the product.

According to the Brazilian Apiculture Confederation (CBA), around 70 percent of the domestic production is of wild honey with 173 catalogued honey plants.

With the return of the Chinese to the market, however, Brazil did not manage to maintain the rhythm of growth of foreign sales. From January to April 2004, Brazil exported 8 700 tonnes, which generated $20.4 million. In the same period in 2005, exports totalled just 3 300 tonnes, equivalent to $6.6 million. This is a significant reduction in terms of volume and revenue. However, because of the quality of Brazilian honey, one of the paths followed by the CBA is prospecting new importer countries to maintain foreign sales.

The Arab market is considered favourable. Last year the countries in the League of Arab States imported 50 000 tonnes of honey from China.

Apiculture may also be considered an excellent option for diversification of cultures and for farmers’ income generation, mainly in the poorest regions of the country, as is the case in the north and northeast of Brazil. According to the CBA, between 2002 and 2005, 150 000 jobs were generated, guaranteeing greater opportunities in the interior and thus avoiding a rural exodus by many families. Apart from providing incentives for production, regional associations and cooperatives were created for the honey to be traded. (Source: ANBA (Brazil-Arab News Agency) [Brazil], 29 June 2005.)

Medicinal and aromatic plants

Artemesia annua shows “potential” in preventing breast cancer

An extract of the sweet wormwood plant (Artemesia annua), used for centuries to fight malaria and shown to target and kill cancer cells, may help prevent breast cancer, researchers have found. The two bioengineers with the University of Washington in Seattle found that the substance artemisinin seemed to prevent breast cancer in rats that had swallowed a cancer-causing chemical. The study appears in the latest issue of the research journal Cancer Letters.

Because artemisinin is widely used in Asia and Africa as an antimalarial drug, it has a track record of being relatively safe. The results “indicate that it may be a potent cancer-chemoprevention agent ... additional studies are needed to investigate whether the breast cancer prevention property of artemisinin can be generalized to other types of cancer”. (Source: World Science, 20 December 2005.)

Artemisia annua fights malaria

Artemisia annua, more commonly known as wormwood or sagewort, has been applied for a variety of ailments, including haemorrhoids, coughs and fevers. China and Viet Nam are the main sources of the plant native to Asia, but they have been unable to meet a steep increase in demand. The World Health Organization (WHO) says demand for artemisinin-based combination drug treatment rose to 30 million courses in 2004, from just 2 million courses in 2003.

Last year, after trials in several countries, it was found that the plant grows well in East Africa – fitting, as Tanzanian health officials call malaria this country’s number one killer, with roughly 100 000 fatalities, mainly children, each year.

Resistance to other antimalarial drugs has grown over the years, leading WHO in 2001 to recommend artemisinin-based combination drug treatment.

Some farmers who have been growing maize and beans for years are switching to Artemisia annua, a medicinal herb from which artemisinin is extracted to make a drug or a combination of drugs used to treat malaria. The treelike plant, which grows up to six ft (1.8 m) is extremely valuable and does not need as much care as maize, largely acting as its own pesticide and insecticide. Farmers expect to earn about US$36 when they harvest the plant’s thick foliage, compared with about $22.7 from maize crops. Scientists are working on a synthetic version, but this has not yet been perfected. However, switching back once the Artemisia annua market fades should not be a problem for farmers, since the medicinal plant takes less toil on the soil than maize.

In the meantime, increased Artemisia annua supplies could bring down the costs of artemisinin-based treatment, crucial in a poor country such as the United Republic of Tanzania. Artemisinin-based combination treatments cost about $2 a dose. Other antimalarial drugs cost between 10 and 15 cents.

A cheaper alternative to artemisinin-based combination drug treatment for malaria is for people growing the plant in their gardens to pluck and dry a few leaves to make an infusion taken over seven days. There have been no widely recognized scientific studies of such infusions. (Source: Guardian Unlimited [United Kingdom], 17 June 2005.)

Recognizing the antimalarial properties of Artemisia annua, the Foundation of Italian Doctors for Africa (Fondazione Italiana Medici per l’Africa – FIMA ONLUS) has prepared a project covering its cultivation and free distribution in Burundi.

For more information, please contact:
FIMA, piazza Monte Grappa 9,
00044 Frascati, Rome, Italy. E-mail: [email protected];

Fighting malaria with traditional medicinal plants

East African scientists have translated new findings regarding the antimosquito properties of indigenous African plants into a low-cost and effective mosquito repellent that could play a role in reducing malaria transmission. Their research, presented at the Fourth Multilateral Initiative on Malaria (MIM) Pan-African Malaria Conference in November 2005, is indicative of a surge of scientific interest in the antimosquito properties of indigenous plant life.

Scientists from Kenya, working with investigators from other East African research institutions, tested oils extracted from 150 East African plants for their ability to repel malaria-carrying mosquitoes and found that 20 of them appeared to be effective. They then formulated a mixture of the oils into a cream that is now being sold under the brand name Mozigone. Tests showed the cream was more effective than DEET, the chemical found in most widely used consumer brands of mosquito repellent and was also less expensive to produce.

Scientific efforts to derive new malaria medicines from indigenous plants have intensified since artemisinin, an extract of the wormwood plant (Artemisia annua) emerged as the leading drug for fighting the disease.

Scientists have also discussed:

• the potential for a Brazilian plant known as “Indian beer” to prevent malaria. Laboratory studies have shown that the plant can kill the malaria parasite early in its lifecycle before it matures and does the most damage to the human body;

• two plants used by traditional herbal practitioners in Burkina Faso to treat malaria. Used in combination, Pavetta crassipes and Mitragyna inermis exhibited antimalarial properties when tested against a laboratory culture taken from a drug-resistant form of the malaria parasite;

• the antimalarial activity of methanol extract of Adansonia digitata (African baobab tree) in mice infected with a rodent form of malaria. The traditional use of baobab as a malaria treatment is well known throughout the West Africa region. The results of the test indicate that
A. digitata bark extract was able to reduce malaria parasites in the mouse.

(Source: The Fourth Multilateral Initiative on Malaria [Dakar], 14 November 2005.)


Medicinal and aromatic plants (MAPs) are offered in a wide variety of products on the market. An estimated 40 000–50 000 plant species are used in traditional and modern medicine throughout the world. The great majority of MAP species is provided by collection from the wild. This trend is likely to continue in the long term as a result of numerous factors, including the high costs of domestication and cultivation. Moreover, cultivation is not necessarily the most beneficial production system for some MAP species. Wild collection secures valuable income for rural households, especially in developing countries; may provide incentives for conservation and sustainable use of important habitats; and can strengthen local economies. Approaches to sustainable wild MAP collection that engage local, regional and international collection enterprises and markets are urgently needed to provide specific guidance for industry, collectors and other stakeholders on sustainable sourcing practices.

The German Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN) has provided start-up funding for the development of an International Standard for Sustainable Wild Collection of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants (ISSC-MAP). The project is implemented by the Medicinal Plant Specialist Group (MPSG) through IUCN-Canada and by WWF/TRAFFIC Germany. This standard will bridge the gap between already existing but mostly very abstract guidelines and management plans developed for specific local conditions. Stakeholders involved will receive an easy to handle list of criteria, indicators and verifiers that will enable them to prove the sustainability of wild collected plant material. ISSC-MAP covers social and economic factors, but clearly focuses on ecological aspects addressing two important elements that are often left aside: the need for resource assessments and the question of annual sustained yields.

The development of ISSC-MAP builds on existing principles, guidelines and standards for sustainable forest practices, organic production and good agricultural practices, fair trade and product quality.

Drafts of the standard and other documents related to the project are available on the project Web site ( Comments on the current draft are welcome and can be sent to [email protected]/

(Contributed by: Susanne Honnef, Species Conservation Section/TRAFFIC, WWF Germany, Rebstöckerstr. 55, 60326 Frankfurt/M., Germany. Fax: 0 69/7 91 44-213; e-mail: [email protected]; www.wwf.dec)

Boswellia ovalifoliolata (Bal. et Henry)

Boswellia ovalifoliolata (Bal. et Henry), a narrow endemic and endangered plant from the hot spots of India’s Tirupati-Tirumala-Nallamalai hills, belongs to the family Burseraceae, and is vernacularly known as konda guggilum in Telugu. This medium-sized deciduous tree is narrowly distributed on the foothills of the eastern parts of the Tirumala hills up to an altitude of about 300 m.

The plant flowers from December to February and the fruits appear between April and June. Leaf fall occurs from December to February and new foliage appears in April to May. The plant trunk secretes oleoresin, a secondary metabolite that is a pale yellow liquid and hardens on exposure. Amyrins are the chief constituents of this gum together with resin acids and volatile acids. The tribals of the Tirumala hills (Lambadi, Sugali and Nakkala) and the local healers of surrounding villages use the gum extensively to cure a number of diseases. They make deep incisions on the main trunk to extract the gum but unknowingly cause damage to immature plants, leading to the depletion of the plant in its natural habitat. It has now become endangered and is listed in the CITES red data book under medicinal plants.

The gum and fresh leaf juice are used for mouth and throat ulcers. Shade-dried gum is powdered, dissolved in water, mixed with curd and given orally to cure amoebic dysentery. The gum powder mixed with sour milk is taken on an empty stomach for stomach ulcers and, mixed with the plant Pedalium murex, is made into paste and applied on the affected parts of the body to cure hydrocoele. A decoction of the stem bark is used for joint or rheumatic pains. (Contributed by: Dr (Mrs) N. Savithramma, Associate Professor, Department of Botany, S.V. University, Tirupati 517 502, India. E-mail: [email protected])

Mappia foetida

The Western Ghats are home to the medicinal plant Mappia foetida, commonly known as narakya or amruta. The alleged illegal international trade of this plant is now becoming an issue of concern. Mappia foetida is sought after for its high concentration of camptothecin – an agent used in drugs to treat cancer in countries such as Japan, Germany, Spain and China.

Besides Karnataka, Mappia foetida is found in Satara, Pune, Kolhapur, Raigad, Ratnagiri and Jalgaon in Maharashtra. Interestingly, most of the land on which it grows belongs to the forest department, yet the plant has been plundered unchecked for the last eight to ten years.

Dr P.S.N. Rao, director of the Botanical Survey of India, Pune, who has undertaken a study on this plant says: “Of late, a worldwide search for plant- and animal-based anticancerous drugs has gathered momentum and so the plant is being regularly harvested from reserve forest zones in Maharashtra. According to figures from the Forest Research Centre at Wada in Thane district, about 16 lakh/kg of this plant powder was exported to Japan and Spain from Maharashtra during 2002. While intermediaries sell it for Rs1 700/kg, the villagers who supply the dried bark and wood to the dealers receive just Rs2–3/kg.”

However, Rao feels that instead of including the plant on the endangered species list, it should be cultivated on a large scale to procure foreign exchange. The debate now revolves around whether its potential should be exploited in a scientific manner or whether it should be put on the endangered species list. (Source: Indian Express [India], 3 July 2005.)

Stephania brachyandra shows capability to treat melanoma

Researchers at New Zealand’s Wellington School of Medicine are working on a possible treatment for melanoma derived from a Vietnamese herb. This herb’s potential came to light through a project that aims to save endangered medicinal plants and develop sustainable incomes for Vietnamese hill tribes, whose people are among the poorest in Asia.

The company behind the project, Forest Herbs Research Ltd, has registered a provisional patent to protect the intellectual property of the project for the benefit of the hill tribes, and is exploring options for commercializing the discovery.

The Director of Forest Herbs, Peter Butler, says the find was unexpected. “We certainly weren’t looking for a cure for cancer. Our expertise is in natural products to control Candida albicans outgrowth.” Butler says the patent for the melanoma treatment will be assigned to a collective of the hill tribes in the Sa Pa district, near the Chinese border. The plant, with antimelanoma properties, is a very rare tuber found at high altitudes in the forest. Methods have been developed to propagate and cultivate it to protect the wild stock and to provide a viable base for an industry.

The tuber of the plant Stephania brachyandra has traditionally been used for many purposes, including as a relaxant and sleep aid. New research has shown that its antimelanoma properties are untapped.

The Forest Herbs’ team in Viet Nam has some other exciting prospects for the plants of the northern hills of Sa Pa. The aid project has funded a commercial essential oil still, set up on one of the communes to produce oils from traditional herbs that showed promise in early trials. Mr Butler said that one of these, a fast-growing member of the mint family, Elsholtzia penduliflora, has excellent potential and that traditionally it has been rubbed into sore muscles. There is also demand from international fair trade organizations, which will be supplied when production increases. (Sources: Forest Herbs press release, 13 October 2005 and All Headline News, 9 November 2005.)

Stevia rebaudiana to cure diabetes

Stevia (Stevia rebaudiana), a high-value medicinal plant whose dry leaves are far sweeter than sugar and can be used by diabetics, has been successfully cultivated in the Debang valley district of Arunachal Pradesh and is ready for commercial harvesting.

The Regional Research Laboratory (RRL) of Jorhat has adopted several villages at Roing in the Debang valley to motivate 300 farmers to cultivate the plant. The particular area was selected since its climate was ideal for the cultivation of stevia.

RRL has provided technical assistance to the villagers besides acting as a facilitator to help them find marketing opportunities through links with businesses from as far away as Hyderabad. Stevia plants yield 2 500 kg of dry leaves per acre (0.405 ha) per year and 1 kg of green leaves can fetch Rs125.

In Arunachal Pradesh, almost 30 species of medicinal plants were identified as being commercially viable for cultivation. Nearly 7 000 farmers cultivate various medicinal and aromatic plants in the northeastern states, including 30 to 35 large entrepreneurs who are mainly tea planters. (Source: Financial Express [India], 27 November 2005.)

Natural products are the only source of medicine for 75 to 90 percent of people living in developing countries. (Source: site/28821/en)

Moringa oleifera

The ultimate multipurpose tree

The versatile moringa plant abounds in nutrients and vitamins. The concept of using multipurpose trees has gained popularity in recent years and no discussion of these trees would be fitting without including moringa.

A measure of the versatility and usefulness of a tree is the number of names it has been given. One of moringa’s more common international names is “horseradish tree” because of the flavour of the roots. Another is “mother’s best friend” because of the nutritional value of its fresh or dry leaves. Widely consumed to increase protein, calcium and iron in the diet, moringa leaves are also packed with vitamins A, B and C. Recent research has revealed that moringa leaf powder may contain seven times the vitamin C content of oranges, four times the vitamin A content of carrots, and three times the potassium content of bananas. When added as a supplement to a child’s diet, just 25 g of the leaf powder reportedly supplies all the calcium and vitamin A daily needs, about half the protein and potassium daily needs, and about three-quarters of the iron daily needs.

Moringa’s value for human nutrition is not restricted to its leaves. The flowers are cooked and used in many dishes, and the seeds are boiled, sautéed or fried before consumption.

The plant is also called “drumstick tree” on account of its long and slender nutritional fruits or pods, which look like drumsticks. The immature green pods are probably the most esteemed and widely used of all the tree parts. Many countries throughout Asia use them in their traditional dishes.

Several other uses of this versatile tree deserve mention: moringa seeds are the source of a fine oil called ben or behen oil, prized for many years for its culinary uses, its burn quality of illuminating without smoke, and its lubricating capabilities for very small machinery, such as in watches. Moringa seeds are also effective in clarifying water.

No discussion about this tree would be complete without mentioning its medicinal value. In India’s traditional medicinal practices, every part of the plant has been used since ancient times for the prevention of various diseases or to treat assorted ailments.

Moringa is easily propagated and established. Little or no attention is required to keep the tree thriving and growing well. In fact, stem growth of up to 10 ft (approximately 3 m) or more in one year is not uncommon. (Source: Thomas Marler in Pacific Sunday News, 31 July 2005.)

Moringa tree production gets US$60 million boost

Farming and propagation of the moringa tree, referred to by medicinal scientists as “Africa’s wonder tree”, has gathered momentum in Zimbabwe with Tree Africa donating US$60 million towards the large-scale cultivation of the tree.

Moringa became popular recently after tests conducted by scientists in West Africa and India revealed that it can boost the human immune system while the seeds can be used to process oil and for water purification.

Tree Africa programme adviser Mr Jacob Jepsen said the money would go a long way towards expanding moringa tree cultivation and conservation projects in Zimbabwe. “This exotic plant has a lot to offer and we would like people to have access to it. It originates from India, but is cultivated in Binga, Mazowe and on a small scale in the Matabeleland south, north and Nyanga areas,” Mr Jepsen said.

Tree Africa encourages everybody to establish nutrient herbal gardens that would see them improve their health. “The moringa tree is highly nutritious in Vitamins A, B and C and it is also a good source of calcium, phosphorus, protein and carbohydrates. The plant does not cure HIV/AIDS as people have been speculating of late,” Mr Jepsen said.

Moringa tree leaves and roots can be pounded differently into powder form and used to spice food or as herbal tea. The plant is being processed into capsules but Tree Africa encourages people to use the unprocessed powders since no traces of other essentials are destroyed. The leaves can be chewed fresh while the flowers can be used as relish.

Tree Africa’s Harare offices also sell genuine moringa tree seedlings for less than the exorbitant prices charged by some unscrupulous dealers. (Source: The Herald [Harare], 30 June 2005.)

Farmers’ drumstick beats drought

In a country where hundreds of debt-ridden farmers routinely take their lives after their crops fail, growing drumsticks may be a solution. The drumstick tree (Moringa oleifera) is one of India’s most common trees, with a vegetable crop of triangular, ribbed pods with winged seeds. The tree’s bark, roots, fruit, flowers, leaves, seeds and gum also have medicinal uses including as an antiseptic and in treating rheumatism, venomous bites and other conditions.

Growing drumsticks makes eminent good sense in a country such as India with patchy irrigation systems. Drumsticks can be grown using rainwater without expensive irrigation techniques since the yield is good even if the water supply is not.

While it takes only US$110–130 an acre (0.405 ha) to farm drumsticks, returns from the crop easily range from $440 to $1 550. (Source: BBC Newsroom, 28 November 2005.)

Zimbabweans living with HIV/AIDS turn to herbal medicines

Moringa powder is the latest medical craze for Zimbabweans battling with one of the world’s highest HIV/AIDS infection rates. Many of those testing positive for HIV/AIDS believe that herbs from the baobab-like moringa tree, which grows in Binga in northern Zimbabwe, help boost the immune system and fight off colds.

However, Zimbabwe Medical Association (Zima) said the hype over moringa was unwarranted and that there was no evidence to support the fact that the herb helps reverse the symptoms of HIV/AIDS. (Source: Mail and Guardian online [South Africa], 26 August 2005.)


Silvicultural and sustainable management of rattan production systems

Rattan and NTFPs have rarely been considered major forest products by forestry research institutes, which have not paid enough attention to these plants as a way of improving sustainable livelihoods and reducing the impact of logging overexploitation through the utilization of alternative sources of income.

This neglect changed in the 1970s as a result of supply shortages from the wild, which made several forest research institutes intensify their studies in the taxonomy and biology of rattan in order to develop methods for growing it in plantations. Several programmes have been developed and the importance of this product is now recognized. However, although great advances have been made in the understanding of rattan both in the wild and as a plantation crop, there is still much that is unknown and many problems that could threaten the sustainable utilization of the canes still remain unresolved.

A recent dissertation by Edoardo Pantanella (resulting from cooperation between the University of Tuscia, Italy and FAO) describes the silvicultural and sustainable management of rattan. Through the review of several studies on ecological, managerial and economic issues, the main aim of the paper consists in analysing rattan profitability and sustainability.

Rattan gross revenues show great economic potential in comparison with timber. Rattan can be harvested with continuity and with shorter rotation cycles and does not require large financial investment for maintenance, machinery and harvesting equipment or processing machineries.

From an ecological point of view, rattan management systems, if maintained within a sustainable level, avoid damage to local fauna and flora since they do not disturb local habitats in the same way as other forest utilizations.

Pantanella concludes that rattan is an important means of livelihood in almost all equatorial and tropical countries and one of the most important NTFPs worldwide.

However, being considered a minor forest product, rattan is not a priority issue on the political agenda on account of its low visibility (no lobbies, regional instead of international markets, difficulty in monitoring, data ignored in national accounting schemes) in comparison with other major commodities.

Sea buckthorn (hippophae rhamnoides)

Breakthrough in the fight against acne and eczema

Sea buckthorn is an extraordinary plant that has been recognized for centuries in Eurasia for its exceptional medicinal and nutritional benefits. Its berries are so rich in vitamins and nutrients that it has been speculated that the plant must have been grown by ancient plant cultivators.

The oil of sea buckthorn has general nourishing, revitalizing and restorative action. It can be used for acne; dermatitis; irritated, sore, dry and itching skin; eczema; skin ulcers; postpartum pigmentation; burns; scalds; cuts; and tissue regeneration. The stimulation of tissue regeneration is helpful in the treatment of burns, bedsores and poorly healing wounds. Sea buckthorn oil helps reduce the damaging effects of sun radiation and effectively combats wrinkles, dryness and other symptoms of malnourished or prematurely ageing skin. It is utilized in anti-ageing skin creams and lotions.

The berries appear to be an unsurpassed natural source of vitamins A and E, carotenes and flavonoids. Sea buckthorn berries are second only to rosehips and acerola in vitamin C content. They are also rich in several other vitamins, including B1, B2, K and P as well as in more than two dozen microelements.

The restorative action of sea buckthorn oil may be in part a result of its high content of essential fatty acids (EFAs), carotenes, tocopherols and phytosterols, which are all important for the maintenance of healthy skin. The EFA content in sea buckthorn oil is 80–95 percent. Major EFAs are oleic and linoleic. Others are pentadecenoic, palmitoleic, heptadecenoic, linolenic, eicosenoic, eicosadienoic, erucic and nervonic.

Among the carotenes found in sea buckthorn are alfa- and beta-carotenes, lycopene, cryptoxanthin, zeaxanthin, taraxanthin and phytofluin. Tocopherols are mostly vitamin E and gamma-tocopherol. Phytosterols of sea buckthorn include beta-sitosterol, beta-amirol and erithrodiol. Taken internally, sea buckthorn can help prevent gums from bleeding; recuperate mucous membranes; heal peptic and duodenal ulcers; combat urinary tract and cervical erosion; help solar and cancer radiation injuries; and is a source of carotenes, phytosterols and EFAs. (Source: [United States], 7 July 2005.)

Tribes in India to grow wonder plant

After years of experiments, the successful plantation of sea buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides) in the cold deserts of Himachal Pradesh’s tribal areas of Kinnaur and Lahaul Spiti districts opened the doors for the prosperity of tribal people who are being encouraged to grow the “wonder plant”. These cold deserts, where minimum temperatures dip to -40°C during winter, are bereft of any vegetation and are perpetually short of fuelwood, food and fodder. The efforts made earlier to provide green cover for the cold deserts under desert development programmes resulted in developing green patches only in some isolated pockets but sea buckthorn is an ideal plant for cultivation in such harsh and hostile weather conditions.

Sea buckthorn is a deciduous shrub, widely distributed in the cold deserts. It has an extensive root system for soil stabilization; a nitrogen-fixing ability for fertility; high vitamin C content; provides best-quality fuelwood and fodder; and its fruits and seed oil have a high economic value for cosmetics, medicines and beverages.

The plant can withstand extreme temperatures ranging between -43°C and +40°C and can grow in dry, arid zones with 300 mm rainfall.

Except for China and the Russian Federation, which developed sea buckthorn as a major horticultural and agro-industrial crop, this wonder plant has remained neglected.

Three species of sea buckthorn, namely H. rhamnoides, H. tibetana, H. salicifolia and Hippophae rhamnoides ssp. turkestanica have been identified so far and successfully cultivated in cold dry zones. The Baspa, Bhaga and Kaza valleys have unique plant species of sea buckthorn with fewer thorns, dense fruiting and large fruits that can be identified and selected for promotion on a commercial and industrial scale.

Sea buckthorn is used for fuelwood, fencing around fields and houses and for fodder, while herbal doctors use the plant for curing lung diseases and headache. It is also used for making wines and jams but these practices have now become almost extinct as a result of the commercialization of agriculture and the availability of other options.

A series of meetings has been organized with the tribal people to popularize sea buckthorn and make its cultivation compulsory in at least a 2-ha area in each desert development project.

Experts and environmentalists feel that keeping the Chinese experience in view, sea buckthorn’s potential should be fully explored for developing it as an agro-industrial crop that would also help in vegetation rehabilitation and more job opportunities for poor tribal people with limited options. (Source: Rediff [India], 19 September 2005.)

Ladakh berry beverage

Delhi-based FIL Industries Ltd today launched the Ladakh berry premium sea buckthorn beverage in India. The Ladakh berry (also known as sea buckthorn, Hippophae rhamnoides) is extracted from the light yellow or orange sea buckthorn berries that grow in the wild on the hillsides of Ladakh.

Sea buckthorn is a powerhouse among fruits and vegetables, containing over 100 nutrients, eight vitamins, 24 minerals and 18 amino acids. The juice is highly stress-resistant as it contains natural vitamins C, E, A and beta-carotene and flavonoids. It has no preservatives and serves as an antioxidant that slows the ageing process, reduces cholesterol, boosts immunity, nourishes the brain and eyes and improves memory. (Source: [India], 24 October 2005.)

Shea butter (vitellaria paradoxa)

L’arbre à karité (Vitellaria paradoxa)

Source d’une des plus anciennes huiles d’Afrique, l’arbre à karité (Vitellaria paradoxa) est un arbre indigène d’Afrique, semi-domestiqué, à croissance lente, présent sur une bande de végétation qui s’étend sur 5 000 km au sud du Sahel, à travers 16 pays africains, du Sénégal à l’Ethiopie et l’Ouganda. L’utilisation du beurre de karité et de l’arbre lui-même a été documentée il y a environ 4 000 ans en Egypte antique. Dès 1354, l’arbre à karité a été documenté comme produit de grande valeur commerciale régional de l’Afrique occidentale par le voyageur marocain Ibn Battuta.

Le développement moderne de l’arbre à karité comme ressource économique et alimentaire a commencé en Afrique occidentale dans les années 50 et a considérablement augmenté ces dernières années. Environ 610 000 tonnes de noix ont été rassemblées à travers la zone africaine du karité durant 2 000 récoltes. Environ 10 pour cent de cette production ont été exportés, principalement vers l’Europe et le Japon, tandis que 545 000 tonnes ont été traitées localement dont 131 000 tonnes environ de beurre de karité. L’exploitation économique de l’arbre à beurre de karité d’Afrique est devenue l’objet d’une industrie dynamique, essentiellement grâce à l’esprit d’initiative, à la résistance physique et au courage des femmes africaines des zones rurales

Les essais d’étude sur la productivité, étant donné la maturation lente de l’arbre. (10 à 20 ans), le manque de continuité dans la recherche et les efforts de développement, ont laissé d’énormes lacunes dans notre compréhension des facteurs biologiques et environnementaux de la productivité du karité. Durant les quatre dernières décennies, des technologies employées au niveau des villages pour améliorer le traitement du karité ont été développées et couronnées de nombreux succès en Afrique de l’Est et centrale. Source: Atelier international sur le traitement,
la valorisation et le commerce de karité en Afrique. Actes du séminaire.
CFC Document technique no 21. FAO,

Shea butter becoming popular in Europe

With its natural healing and moisturizing properties and its ability to combat the ageing process, shea butter is fast becoming the answer to fighting skin complaints. Although relatively new to America and Europe, shea butter has been used in Africa for centuries as a skin and hair care balm. Today it is used as a cream, at various levels of refinement, by men and women all over the world.

As we become aware of the effects of chemicals and toxins in our bodies, organic products are increasingly viewed as the number one choice for our health and beauty demands. Naturally rich in essential vitamins (A, E and F) and acids the skin needs, shea butter is 100 percent natural. Vitamins A and E help maintain the skin and keep it clear and healthy, preventing premature wrinkles and are especially good for sun-damaged skin and mild skin issues. Vitamin F acts as a skin protector and rejuvenator and soothes rough or dry skin.

Shea’s versatility makes it the new and more efficient alternative to cocoa butter. (Source: [Ireland], 13 December 2005.)


Lac cultivation in Viet Nam

Shellac represents the sole natural resinous substance secreted by a small insect (Laccifer lacca Kerr) while it lives and develops as a parasite on some lac host trees and plants. The resin is in essence the nest of the Laccifer lacca whose product is termed as “sticklac” when just harvested, “seedlac” when crushed and washed clean and “shellac” when processed and commercialized in the form of very thin scales.

Shellac has several particular features such as non-toxicity, insulation and adhesiveness, which are not present in artificial plastic, hence the use of shellac in the manufacture of superior quality paint for the electronics, aviation and canning industries, among others. Pharmacologically, shellac is used as a detoxicant, an antidote and a tooth analgesic.

Shellac has long been produced in the South and Southeast Asian region, including Viet Nam and the Lao People’s Democratic Republic. In 1937, the two latter countries produced 357 tonnes of sticklac, valued at approximately Fr.Fr.1 million.

In Viet Nam, lac is cultivated mainly in the northern provinces. The host trees and plants for lac insects to parasitize include Protium serratum, Cajanus cajan, Dalbergia hupeana var. laccifera, Ficus racemosa, Pterocarya tonkinensis and Saraca dives, with the first three giving highest yields. In the province of Nghe An, local people have long harvested natural sticklac and cultivate lac themselves. In 1964, their sticklac output topped 64 tonnes; by 1981, this stood at 3 tonnes. Without incentive policies, there was a drastic decrease in sticklac output. Only a few locals kept up the trade, cultivating lac on natural trees and plants.

One of the main causes of lac’s decline was that farming households found it difficult to cultivate host trees, particularly perennial trees that could give high yields such as Protium serratum and Dalbergia hupeana var. laccifera.

In early 2004, Nghe An Provincial Forestry Subdepartment launched a sectoral scientific study on “Adopting technical measures to propagate the Dalbergia hupeana var. laccifera as a host tree for lac cultivation”. As a perennial found in natural conditions, distributed mainly in the districts of Ky Son and Tuong Duong and a number of villages in Que Phong district, the Dalbergia hupeana var. laccifera is a medium-sized tree usually growing on hillsides and foothills; it is shade-demanding when young and light-demanding when mature.

Mountain farmers have taken advantage of natural Dalbergia hupeana var. laccifera for lac cultivation. They go to look for the trees in forests and mark them once found so that the trees then become their own. One Dalbergia hupeana var. laccifera may nourish lac insects for many years and yield 60 kg of sticklac per year.

As it is difficult to propagate the tree, the locals often chop at its roots to get shoots for future nurseries and cultivation. Using this technique, the rate of survival of seedlings is fairly low and it is impossible to meet the local people’s demand for lac host trees. Consequently, Nghe An Provincial Forestry Subdepartment and the research team have germinated 7 000 cuttings in an indoor nursery in Ky Son. In 2005, it is estimated that 2–3 ha will have been put under Dalbergia hupeana var. laccifera by individual households in Ky Son.

This success is expected to open up new directions for lac-cultivating households in the three districts of Ky Son, Tuong Duong and Que Phong, thus helping to restructure crops in the mountain and highland districts with a view to accomplishing the target of cultivating 5 000 ha of lac host trees for lac cultivation in Nghe An Province by 2010. (Source: Extracted from: article by Nguyen Tien Lam in NTFP Newsletter, 2[4], October 2005.)

Growing lac insects for resin in an agroforestry system in Indonesia

Lac is a natural resin produced by the scale insect Laccifer lacca, which is a parasite of certain host trees. Used mainly to make lacquer and glossing material, lac is a commodity that has been traded in the international market since the early twentieth century. Lac is also used today in electronics, printing, textiles, clothing, cosmetics and food. The United States and Japan are major importers of lac resin, while India and Thailand are the leading exporters.

Because of the increasing market demand for resin, growing lac has become an enterprise in Indonesia. Local governments have set up lac cultivation projects in areas where a high population of kesambi (Schleicera oleosa) host trees abound. Today, policy-makers and business people in the East Nusa Tenggara Province continue to promote lac resin production.

Lac insects are found only in certain regions (Alor, Sumba, Flores and Rote Islands) of East Nusa Tenggara at altitudes between 100 and 500 m. Many of these places have no roads or even bicycle trails. The first officially recorded lac production in Alor district was in 1993, totalling 206 tonnes. Since then, accumulated production up to 1999 was approximately 1 610 tonnes of stick and scraped lac.

Most lac growers are traditional farm families practising shifting agriculture. Expertise is passed on from father to son. Each family usually has only a few big host trees in the forest or in the garden. With the government ban on wood exploitation, highland farmers are turning to non-wood products, such as lac, together with livestock as sources of additional income.

Lac growing involves the inoculation of lac insects into perennial host trees. The farmers take a few days to tie the broodlac (mother cell with the female lac insect) on to the hosts. After three to four months, farmers return to harvest the broodlac, which usually takes a week.

During harvesting, the branches bearing lac are cut down and the broodlacs are tied to new hosts. The harvested host trees are left alone for one to two years for the regrowth of branches.

Lac yields depend on the weather. If the weather is bad, especially during the rainy season, there may not even be enough broodlac to inoculate the next crop.

Despite declining production, lac growing in East Nusa Tenggara has good economic potential because of low labour costs. It also requires only low-level investment (since sticklac is obtained from the empty broodlac a month after inoculation and can cover two-thirds of the cost); provides quick and regular income; is easily transported; and trees as perennial hosts can be readily found or grown. (Source: Extracted from: article by M. Kudeng Sallata and I. Made Widyana [in APANews, Asia-Pacific Agroforestry Newsletter, 26, July 2005].)


White magic

The white truffle of Alba – the tartufo bianco, which comes from the woods of the Italian province of Piedmont, where it is dug from the earth by specialist hunters and their dogs – is the king of all fungi, one of the world’s most sought-after and most expensive delicacies, commanding prices which make it more valuable, per gram, than gold.

The white truffle is found in five different varieties, determined by the species of tree on whose roots it originates. Depending on whether it is associated with, for example, the willow, oak, poplar or hazelnut, its colour can range from white, sometimes veined with pink, to grey verging on brown.

Truffles are part of the vast family of fungi, found all over the world. The tuber itself is born – like most fungi – underneath the leaf mould, in the early summer months, attaching itself to the tree roots like the parasite it is. Sufficient rain in August can swell the truffles in size. Attempts to grow them commercially have failed.

Black summer and winter truffles also grow in parts of France, where they are hunted using pigs in the Perigord region, Italy, Spain and Croatia. Some black truffles have also been found occasionally in British woods and there is clearly money to be made by anyone who locates a large amount.

Alba itself has become the centre of the truffle trade, with a weekly market where fungi from all over central Italy are bought and sold, while shops sell related products such as highly flavoured truffle oil or preserved truffles. (Source: The Independent [United Kingdom], 14 November 2005.)

Secretive truffle growers in New Zealand

Second only to espionage as the world’s most mysterious occupation, truffle growing is taking off in Wairarapa, New Zealand. An industry insider revealed there are at least nine truffle growers in the region, but they like to keep their identities strictly under wraps.

The reason for the truffle growers’ notorious secretiveness comes down to the sheer value of their crops. Truffles can fetch up to US$3 500/kg so the potential for a grower who has a hundred or so trees in his truffle orchard – known in the business as a ” – is huge.

Truffles are the fruits of specific varieties of fungi that grow underground, in a symbiotic relationship with tree roots. They usually grow with oaks and hazelnut trees, but they may also grow with sweet chestnut, some pines and other tree types.

In New Zealand truffles generally fruit between May and August, but growers have to be quick to harvest them since they are ripe for only a matter of days. They also have to have a well-trained dog that can sniff out the truffle’s location.

There are two main varieties of truffle grown commercially in New Zealand – the Tuber melanosporum, which produces the Perigord black truffle originally found in the south of France, northern Italy and northeastern Spain and the Tuber borchi, which produces an Italian white truffle called bianchetto.

The industry took off in the late 1980s after a mycologist began growing tree seedlings, which he deliberately infected with the Perigord black truffle fungus. Since then, would-be truffle growers around New Zealand have bought infected seedlings from Crop and Food Research in the hope of making mega dollars.

The oldest truffle plantations in the region are eight years old, but it can take five to ten years for the truffle fungi to fruit and even then there is no guarantee that they will fruit at all. (Source: Wairarapa Times Age, 9 November 2005.)

Hidden delicacy in Oregon’s forests

Oregon’s forests are home to a treasure for mushroom hunters in search of truffles. They are the United States’ largest source of truffles but lag behind France, Spain, Italy and other parts of Europe. Oregon’s annual harvest is roughly 10 tonnes, compared with more than 100 tonnes for all of Europe.

Truffles grow underground and rely on trees to host them and animals eating them to distribute their spores. Many Oregon truffles grow near the roots of Douglas firs, but they can also be cultivated on hazelnut and oak trees. (Source: Seattle Times, 6 December 2005.)

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