Overstory #136 - Underutilised Indigenous Fruit Trees
The term underutilised indigenous fruit trees (UIFT) refers to fruit bearing trees that are not highly researched and which are generally ignored by the commercial sector. Little research has been carried out on these species and information documented about their basic biology, growing habits, management practices, processing and utilisation is scant and scattered. Research is often carried out by isolated groups with their findings restricted to academic journals, and dissemination of information to a wider audience is poor.
Nevertheless, UIFT are an important source of food and nutrition, and contribute to the income of rural and urban people through the marketing of their products. They are grown mainly in home gardens and small farms and resource poor people, particularly tribal people, also gather wild fruits from the forests and other noncultivated areas for their multipurpose uses. Women often play a major role in the gathering of UIFT (Ruiz Pérez et al. 1997) and are frequently involved in decisions about the sale of the fruits and their products. The extra income from the fruits is often spent on education, nutrition and health, and controlled by the women who gain greater respect from their families and communities through these activities.
Fruit trees also play a vital role in crop diversification programmes and agroforestry systems. Their inclusion in production systems reduces the risks inherent to monocultures of staple food crops such as susceptibility to pests and diseases, soil nutrient depletion, price fluctuations, and reliance on a single crop for income. It has been reported in countries such as China, Nepal and the Philippines (Shakaya 2002; Castillo 2002), that farmer income from indigenous fruits is much higher than from traditional agricultural crops.
Why promote indigenous fruit trees?
Of a diverse range of tropical fruit tree species, many are only known regionally. They are a valuable source of vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants and make an important contribution to the diet of poor families. Fruit trees are a valuable family asset. In addition to their fruit, they are important sources of timber, fodder and fuel, and many have medicinal and industrial uses. Organised collection of these fruits and products from forest trees can create employment, particularly for the landless poor. The reason for this is that small-scale food processing responds to local needs, builds on local knowledge and skills, and uses local resources. However, researchers, policy makers and commercial enterprises and the international community have just started to recognise their value because of the relation with non-timber forest products (NTFP).
Fruit trees provide environmental benefits by protecting the soil and generating leaf litter. This decreases the runoff from the soil surface, preventing erosion, maintaining a stable, moist surface and improving the physical properties of the soil. Tree roots can also loosen the topsoil by radial growth and improve the porosity in the subsoil (Sanchez and Leakey 1997). Fruit trees, particularly UIFT, can establish on poor soils and improve the productivity of the soil. They are suited to marginal and wastelands, and can resist harsh conditions such as moisture stress and salinity. In addition, farmers can obtain a decent crop from trees growing in areas where other crops would not survive.
Constraints for sustainable production, processing and marketing
Effective development and utilisation of UIFT requires the identification of the constraints and the implementation of actions to overcome these constraints. The constraints listed below have been identified through participatory research work and regional workshops implemented by various organisations on UIFT (Haq and Hoque 2000; UTFANET 2003), but refer mainly to practical issues relating to fruit tree development.
Lack of quality planting material
Good quality planting material provides farmers with better trees, tastier fruits and higher yields. Improved varieties may also be adapted to local climate, topography and farming systems providing specific benefits for farmers in different regions.
Lack of standardised propagation and production technology
Standardised propagation and production technology is important in the development of high quality products. This can be highlighted by using mangosteen as an example, the fruit of which is very desirable with some demand in local, national and international markets (Dassanayake 1996). However, because of production constraints, demand exceeds supply. Mangosteen has a long maturation period, is slow growing and is susceptible to drought due to its shallow root system. A disorder referred to as 'Gamboge disease' leads to its poor marketability due to a yellowish exudate on the fruit skin and inside the fruit (Dassanayake 1996). The presence of exudate has been linked to physical stress of the trees such as fertiliser deficiency or drought (Dassanayake 1996). Research trials with fertigation methods are underway in Thailand and the Philippines (UTFANET) (Rondolo 2002) and may have implications in the prevention of Gamboge disease through the improved growing conditions. Studies indicate that fruit yields are increased and the cost of fertiliser on a per ha basis was reduced by almost 16% (Lertrat 2001).
Mangosteen is an apomictic species, usually propagated by seed. Traditional breeding methods are difficult and although progress has been made with vegetative propagation (UTFANET 2003) it has thus far been slow. Multiplication methods and production technologies have not yet been fully developed for many UIFT.
Fruit ripening period
Narrow fruiting periods result in the simultaneous ripening of all fruits, causing an oversupply in the market and lowering of the prices, followed by a relative fruit scarcity with high prices. Tamarind for example, sometimes exhibits cyclic yields with a bumper harvest every 2–3 years (Jambulingam and Fernandes 1986). Mangosteen also exhibits uneven and unreliable bearing (Dassanayake 1996). This causes a particular problem for farmers as they often have to wait for traders before harvesting. Uneven and unreliable harvests can result in losses throughout the market chain. This also presents a problem for exporters as the supply of fruits is not continuous (Dassanayake 1996).
Lack of information
Access to information is lacking throughout the production to consumption pathway. Areas of particular concern are:
- Production technology and propagation methods – propagation by seed is the most commonly used method throughout rural Asia, however grafted plants provide far better trees.
- Appropriate processing technologies – often small-scale processors are unaware of the technologies that may be appropriate to their needs, despite the fact that the technologies are being widely used elsewhere.
- Marketing information and economics – is essential in the successful commercialisation of fruit tree species.
The demand for information comes from a variety of groups and organisations including NGOs, CBOs, and from participatory research and survey reports carried out in countries in Asia including Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines and Sri Lanka (UTFANET 2003, Azam-Ali unpublished). Farmers, small-scale entrepreneurs, businesses and research institutions have all expressed a need for access to current information on aspects of the production to consumption pathway (Haq and Hughes 2002). Evidence of this is also reflected through participatory research and regional meetings in Africa (Haq and Atkinson 1999) and Latin America (UNICACH 1999). The particular challenge here is to develop information that can be effective in a country with high levels of illiteracy (Azami 2002).
Lack of standardised processing and postharvest technologies
Processing and marketing strategies and consumer requirements are different. In addition, quality control standards and certification schemes for many UIFT are lacking, however such controls may improve the products available in the market (NRI 2000). Better utilisation of these fruits can provide a number of opportunities to raise household income.
Local market structures are poor or lacking
In the past, a large majority of the consumption of forest produce has taken place through non-market channels and subsistence use, which goes some way to explaining the poor marketing channels for UIFT. Marketing pathways remain poorly organised for these fruits in many countries throughout Asia and indeed globally. Lack of infrastructure and transport systems also lead to damaged fruits and high wastage. In Nepal, for example, annual fruit production is 46,492 MT with over 55 different species under production; however 30–40% of the demand of the urban population is still met by imports due to the lack of roads to transport local produce (Shakaya 2002).
Some small entrepreneurs do not have structured ideas about business practices, including how to market their produce, which is low quality (Haq 2000a) and fetches a low price (Vinning and Moody 1997). But the issues involved in capacity building that are sustained over time are not simply a matter of technical know-how. It is also about understanding the processes whereby change in farming and marketing practices occur, how people can feel they 'own' these changes and how they can be sustained in the long-term.
Lack of access to credit
The majority of small scale farmers and processors, especially women, face a variety of problems when seeking credit, including lack of information, high interest rates, lack of collateral, bureaucratic, and prejudice against women and small scale farmers and processors (Azami 2002).
Lack of national policy
Although many farmers are interested in UIFT, the inclusion of such species in the national agricultural research programmes in developing countries is limited. According to Williams and Haq (2002), only eight developing countries worldwide have national programmes on underutilised species, including UIFT. Four of these countries are in Asia, with only India having a clear list of priority species.
Strategy development for UIFT is limited due, in part, to lack of government support and also lack of information and documentation on the constraints mentioned above. Attention has been focused on the need to conserve and better use the botanical diversity in traditional agroecosystems and natural forest systems, but support at the national, regional and international level has been limited. The socio-economics and well-being of the farmers and communities needs to be taken into account, and agricultural policy linked to forestry and export policy, which currently provides huge incentives for the local people to cut down indigenous species for veneer and timber production stimulated by the demand in the furniture industry (Williams and Haq 2002).
Azam-Ali, S. (Unpublished) Assessment of the current status of post harvest handling, processing and marketing of underutilised tropical fruits in Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Vietnam. Report, Fruits for the Future Project, ICUC.
Azami, S. 2002. Use of information for promotion of underutilised fruit trees. In Haq, N. and Hughes, A. (Eds) Fruits for the Future in Asia. Proceedings for the Consultation meeting on the Processing and marketing of underutilised tropical fruits in Asia. International Centre of Underutilised Crops, Southampton, UK. Pp 81–84.
Castillo, R. 2002. Current industry situation of underutilised crops in the Philippines. In Hag, N. and Hughes, A. (Eds) Fruits for the Future in Asia. Proceedings for the Consultation meeting on the Processing and marketing of underutilised tropical fruits in Asia. International Centre of Underutilised Crops, Southampton, UK. Pp 191–198.
Dassanayake, E.M. 1996. Information gathering in plant genetic resources, propagation and production, postharvest, socio-economic and marketing of mangosteen. UTFANET Report.
Haq, N. 2000a. Report on Evaluation of Fruit Trees in Homesteads of Bangladesh and their possible marketing opportunities. DFID-SHABJE Project. CARE Bangladesh.
Haq, N. and Atkinson, M. 1999. Tropical and subtropical fruits of West Africa. Proceedings of the 1st regional meeting held in Accra on 15th–16th October 1998. International Centre for Underutilised crops, Southampton, UK. 146 pp.
Haq, N. and Hoque, A. 2000. Research needs and assessment for fruit production and improvement. Final Report, SHABGE–DFID Project, CARE Bangladesh.
Haq, N. and Hughes, A. (Eds) 2002. Fruits for the Future in Asia. Proceedings for the Consultation meeting on the Processing and marketing of underutilised tropical fruits in Asia. International Centre of Underutilised Crops, Southampton, UK. 236 pp.
Jambulingam, R. and Fernandes, E.C.M. 1986. Multipurpose trees and shrubs in Tamil Nadu State, India. Agroforesty Systems, 4(1): 17–32.
Lertrat, P. 2001. Fertigation research on mangosteen in Thailand. Global newsletter on Underutilised Crops. International Centre for Underutilised Crops, Southampton, UK. (June). Pp16–18.
Natural Resource Institute. 2000. Labour standards and social codes of conduct: what do they mean for the forest industry? Ethical Trade Policy Watching Brief 3. Natural Resources and Ethical Trade Programme, Ethical Trade and Forest Dependent People Project. Kent.
Rondolo, M. 2002. ICUC-UTFANET and its role in Asia. In Haq, N. and Hughes, A. (Eds) Fruits for the Future in Asia. Proceedings for the Consultation meeting on the Processing and marketing of underutilised tropical fruits in 180 A. Hughes and N. Haq Asia. International Centre of Underutilised Crops, Southampton, UK. Pp 29–40.
Ruiz Perez, M., Broekhoven, A.J., Aluma, J.R.W., Iddi, S., Lowroe, J.D., Mutemwa, S.M. and Odera, J.A. 1997. Research on non-timber forest products in selected countries in southern and East Africa: themes, research issues, priorities and constraints. CIFOR Working Paper No. 15. 21pp.
Sanchez, P.A. and Leakey, R.R.B. 1997. Land use transformation in Africa: three determinants for balancing food security with natural resource utilisation. European Journal of Agronomy, 7: 15–23.
Shakaya, D.B. 2002. Status report of processing and marketing of underutilised fruits in Nepal. In Haq, N. and Hughes, A. (Eds) Fruits for the Future in Asia. Proceedings for the Consultation meeting on the Processing and marketing of underutilised tropical fruits in Asia. International Centre of Underutilised Crops, Southampton, UK. Pp 156–181.
UNICACH. 1999. Proceedings of 2nd International Congress on Annonaceae. Universidad de Ciencias y Artes del Estado de Chiapas, Tuxtla Gutiérrez, México, 26th–28th October 1999. 278 pp.
UTFANET 2003. UTFANET Report. Scientist Meeting, April 2003, Hanoi, Vietnam.
Williams, J.T. and Haq, N. 2002. Global research on underutilised crops. An assessment of current activities and proposals for enhanced cooperation. International Centre for Underutilised Crops, Southampton, UK. 46 pp.
Vinning, G. and Moody, T. 1997. A market compendium of tropical fruit. Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation No. 97/74. Canberra, Australia. 275 pp.
This excerpt was reprinted with the kind permission of the authors and publisher from:
Hughes, A. and N. Haq. 2003. Promotion of indigenous fruit trees through improved processing and marketing in Asia. International Forestry Review 5(2): 176-181.
Publisher contact information: Alan Pottinger International Forestry Review 2 Webbs Barn Cottage, Witney Road Kingston Bagpuize Abingdon, Oxon OX13 5AN United Kingdom E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Tel: +44 (0) 1865 820935 Fax: +44 (0) 1865 820935 Web: http://www.cfa-international.org/IFR.html
About the authors
Angela Hughes has been working for the International Centre for Underutilised Crops (ICUC) for the last 5 years as a coordinator of a global project "Fruits for the Future." Her work involves the promotion of indigenous fruit tree species through dissemination of information, overseas training and extension work and the production of scientific and other publications on fruit tree species. Angela holds a Master's degree in Botanical Diversity and Conservation Management. Contact: ICUC, Lanchester Building, School of Civil Engineering and the Environment, University of Southampton, Southampton SO171BJ, UK. Email: A.Hughes@soton.ac.uk.
Nazmul Haq is a Senior Lecturer at the School of Civil Engineering and the Environment, University of Southampton, UK. Nazmul is also the Founder Director of the International Centre for Underutilised Crops at Southampton University. His interests include agroforestry and sustainable utilization of fruit trees in global perspectives. The emphasis of his work is on the assessment of diversity in the household systems and development of conservation strategy through sustainable utilization. He has been project leader for many donor agency funded projects including the UN organizations. Address: Dr. Nazmul Haq, Senior Lecturer, School of Civil Engineering and the Environment, University of Southampton, Southampton SO171BJ, UK. Tel: +44(0)23-80594229; Fax: +44(0)23-80677519; Email: email@example.com.
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