Overstory #201 - Indigenous Fruit Tree Domestication
This excerpt of a newly released CABI publication frequently cites chapters in the original publication (see "Original Source" below). Please refer to the original publication for further reference.
Why domesticate indigenous fruit and nut trees (IFTs)?
Out of the 250,000 higher plant species in the world, less than 1% have been domesticated as food plants and, of these, about 50% are fruit trees that are either domesticated or semi-domesticated (Leakey and Tomich, 1999). In Tanzania, about 326 indigenous plants have been described as edible (Ruffo et al., 2002) but few, if any, of these species have been domesticated through deliberate tree improvement programmes (Akinnifesi et al., 2006a). An inventory of fruit trees in Nigeria and Cameroon showed that 56% of fruit trees are indigenous (Schreckenberg et al., 2006), and many of them are endemic to some locations (A. Degrande et al., unpublished). Farmers listed more than 200 species in Latin America that they would like to cultivate (Weber et al., 2001).
The reasons for the long-time neglect of IFTs and failure to domesticate them have been variously identified as being due to:
- lack of information and reliable methods for measuring their contribution to rural economies, livelihoods of communities, and ecological services (Chapter 11, org. source);
- low production incentives relating to markets and technology (Leakey et al., 2005; Chapters 11 and 13, orig. source);
- bias in favour of large-scale agriculture and conventional forestry (Russell and Franzel, 2004; Teklehaimanot, 2004; Chapters 3, 8 and 11, orig. source);
- colonial interventions that left a profound legacy of neglect of smallholder farm production in favour of estate farm producers (especially in eastern and southern Africa) and European export product trading interests in West Africa; and
- a weak interface between private sector actors, researchers and extensionists in tree products (Russell and Franzel, 2004).
Domestication aims at promoting the cultivation of IFTs with economic potential as new cash crops, and provides incentive to subsistence farmers to plant trees that contribute towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of poverty reduction and enhancement of food and nutritional security (Leakey et al., 2005).
From the preceding chapters, the following have emerged as benefits of domestication:
Desirable fruit traits
This involves development of cultivars with high productivity, harvest index, superior quality, improved food value and acceptability. As highlighted in Chapter 6 (org. source), many of the Amazonian fruits have not been attractive to the market for various reasons: some require processing, most have a short shelf life, and they are of variable quality because they are seed-propagated. This is true of most IFTs in the tropics, and suggests the need for selection and improvement of wild cultivars for desirable quality trait(s) (Chapters 1, 2, 8 and 9, orig. source) and higher market values (Chapters 12 and 14). Some trees can produce fruit twice within the same year, and some can have delayed or late fruiting. Examples of how these traits have been captured are found in Chapter 9 (org. source).
One of the major problems identified by farmers and stakeholders across the regions and reported in many chapters of this book is the desire to reduce the juvenile phase and shorten the period before first fruiting of IFTs (Chapters 1, 2, 6, 8, 9, orig. source). For instance, U. kirkiana takes 1216 years to fruit in the wild (Chapter 8, orig. source), Irvingia gabonensis, Chrysophyllum albidum and Garcinia kola are all known to fruit late in West Africa (Chapter 9, orig. source). Allanblackia floribunda may take at least 20 years to produce fruit (Rompaey, 2005). This is an urgent case warranting domestication that targets fruit production in a fraction of the time required in natural stands. Such a long maturity period tends to discourage farmer adoption and private investment in IFTs, especially in low-income countries. The long period that it takes before enjoying the benefits from tree-based agriculture is one of the reasons that farmers in Zambia see it as a constraint to the adoption of agroforestry tree species (Ajayi, 2007). Therefore, domestication plays a significant role in ensuring that trees produce quality fruits in a shorter period of time, using proven strategies (Chapter 2, orig. source).
Inconsistency and inadequate supply: quality and quantity
Market preference is for consistency in the supply of quality fruit traits in terms of uniformity and regularity. For example, the quality of wine made from açaí-do-Pará (Euterpe oleracea) varies, due to variations in quality, harvest and postharvest practices; limitations that impact on food quality and safety (Chapter 6, orig. source). Production in insufficient quantities has been a major market limitation in many cases, especially for products that have captured global markets. This was reported for camu camu (Myrciaria floribunda) in Latin America (Chapter 6, orig. source), and is also the case for Sclerocarya birrea (marula), which relies almost entirely on wild harvests or semidomesticated stands, and has limited entrepreneurial interest in some IFTs promoted in southern Africa. On the other hand, because of the abundance and availability of some species in the wild, the scope for their cultivation and improvement by researchers has been limited in the past, as is also the case for many Amazonian fruits that have not been cultivated (Chapter 6, orig. source) and for Uapaca kirkiana (wild loquat) in Zimbabwe (Mithöfer, 2005). Mithöfer (2005) suggested that farmers would require tree improvement incentives that are not really technically feasible in order for spontaneous adoption of indigenous fruit trees to take place, because the collection of IFTs from the wild is still attractive and profitable. On the other hand, a similar study in Malawi indicated that, if awareness is created, smallholder farmers would readily adopt IFTs such as U. kirkiana, even with little or no improvement as incentives. This is due to greater resource depletion in Malawi compared with Zimbabwe. In the Zimbabwe situation, a consistent supply would be in terms of developing fresh market fruit ideotypes that would meet consumers' needs in terms of size, colour, taste and uniformity.
Conservation of biodiversity
Biodiversity is often ignored as a reason for domesticating trees on-farm. Teklehaimanot (Chapter 11, orig. source) has highlighted the potential of Cordeauxia edulis (yehib), the most preferred IFTs in the dry region of East Africa. The fruits are used in Somalia and Ethiopia as a drought food. Its leaves are also a source of cordeauxiaquinone, which is used for dying and in medicine. It is the most threatened tree species identified by the IUCN (Chapter 11, orig. source). Genetic diversity can be conserved through 20 generations of improvement (Cornelius et al., 2006). However, there is fundamental conflict between genetic gain and genetic conservation. No improvement programme can conserve all the genetic diversity of landraces. However, domestication can help to preserve biodiversity and genetic resources on-farm. It can also help to elevate the genetic gain and diversity of a few species with high impact potential. Adequate genetic diversity of IFTs can be maintained through conservation of wild sources, regular introduction of new clones, and generation of new genotypes through hybridization (Chapters 2, 8 and 9, orig. source).
Novel foods and food additives
Providing novel foods and creating products with niche markets, which can constitute important export commodities, is another benefit of domestication. Examples include camu camu (Myrciaria dubia) for vitamin C (Chapter 6, orig. source), marula cream and oil from Sclerocarya birrea (Chapters 8 and 14, orig. source), Allanblackia spp. for oil butter (Rompaey, 2005), solid butter from Vitellaria paradoxa (Teklehaimanot, 2004; Chapter 10, orig. source), white chocolate from cupuaçu (Theobroma grandiflorum), among others. Domestication can help avoid the boom-and-bust economy that typically occurs when products are harvested from the wild (Penn, 2006). Farmers must have access to superior stocks if they are to capitalize on the benefits of IFT cultivation.
Public goods and services
Domestication can also help provide international public goods and services including carbon sequestration, biodiversity conservation, erosion control, etc., which benefit both the present global community and also future generations (Leakey et al., 2005).
Domestication: from extraction to cultivation
Despite more than two decades of research on IFTs, 90% of the marketed products still come from the wild. A species is considered wild when it grows spontaneously and naturally without human intervention. The term 'domestication' has been accepted since the 19th century as a dynamic term referring to a process rather than a state of existence of wild or semi-domesticated trees (Chapter 4, orig. source). This acceptance is evidenced by the number of scientific articles, meetings and conferences where the term has been used without explanation.
Dubois (1995) observed three stages of historical interventions by the Brazilian Amazon forest-dwellers, namely: (i) simple harvests without intentional management; (ii) enrichment of long-duration tree-fallow; and (iii) systematic enrichment of forest stands with planted trees, usually high-value trees, resulting in an agroforest. Domestication of indigenous fruits has been extensively documented in the literature, especially in agroforests (Wiersum, 2004; Chapter 4, orig. source) and homegardens (Kumar and Nair, 2004), and the patterns seem to be similar in Asia (Chapter 4, orig. source) and Latin America (Chapter 6, orig. source), and in the cocoa agroforests of humid west and central Africa (Lodoen, 1998; Chapter 9, orig. source).
The process of coevolution between forest trees and fruit production has been illustrated by the durian fruit tree (Durio zibethinus) in South-east Asia (Chapter 4, orig. source) as an intermediate form of domestication for multifunctional production systems. The production systems research of which domestication should focus on has favoured a landscape domestication approach. The different interpretations of domestication by biologists and agroecologists have been described in Chapter 4 (orig. source). Biologists tend to understand domestication as involving alterations in biological processes at the species and individual tree level, which leads to adaptation and changes in genetic make-up. On the other hand, agroecologists emphasize the processes operating at the landscape level involving people-plant interactions.
Nexus between collection and cultivation
Since trees do not usually require open land, or a vast area of land, and can be conveniently incorporated into a farming system with the conditions necessary for production of fruits, the trajectory of domestication involves a gradual modification of production conditions from forest to agricultural crops (Michon and de Foresta, 1997; Wiersum, 2004; Chapter 4, orig. source). Michon and de Foresta (1996) approached domestication as a change in wild harvesting or exploitation systems. No matter how it is viewed, both processes of wild or semi-wild fruit tree conservation and management, and deliberate selection and cultivation, are important in domestication that aims to increase returns to farmers in a sustainable way. The processes of adaptation of people and trees from extractivism to cultivation warrant further exploration.
Clearly, fruit trees, whether exotic or indigenous, can be grown in a variety of different production systems, including: (i) natural forests where fruit trees are protected; (ii) enriched natural forests through deliberate regeneration or planting of propagules; (iii) 'cyclic agroforests' or forest gardens; (iv) mixed arboriculture, e.g. homegardens; and (v) monoculture fruit-tree plantations or orchards (Wiersum, 1997; Chapter 4, orig. source). Creative farmers have evolved these systems in Asia (Caradang et al., 2006; Chapter 4, orig. source), Latin America (Dubois et al., 1996; Penn, 2006; Chapter 6, orig. source) and Africa (Okafor, 1983; Kang and Akinnifesi, 2000; Leakey et al., 2005). The trajectories of change in such systems vary and depend on various ecological, biological and socio-economic and political factors. According to Wiersum (Chapter 4, orig. source), smallholder farmers gradually change their fruit-tree production systems from wild collection to more specialized fruit arboricultural orchard management, while at the same time modifying species composition and management. The durian (D. zibethinus) forest garden in Asia, Brazil nut (Bertholletia spp.) or bacuri forest gardens or 'açaiceiro' in Brazil are examples. How the products can be better adapted to meet market demand will require deliberate domestication and improvement initiatives.
Despite the availability of fruits in the wild, improvements in fruit yield and earlier fruiting (i.e. shortened juvenile phase or enhanced precocity) would create incentives to farmers to cultivate indigenous fruit trees, even though such an incentive depends on the robustness of the improvement impact and factors negatively affecting fruit abundance (Mithöfer and Waibel, 2003; Fiedler, 2004). Domestication activities are essential if a tangible commercial interest in indigenous fruits is to emerge beyond the current opportunistic levels. However, it is important to recognize that success is dependent on the domestication and commercialization of indigenous fruit trees occurring in parallel (Wynberg et al., 2003, Akinnifesi et al., 2004a, 2006; Chapter 8, orig. source), in order that problems of the seasonality and reliability of supply, diversity and inconsistency of fruit quality are overcome throughout the supply chain.
A global analysis of the marketing and cultivation of wild forest products has found that farmers who engaged in the cultivation of indigenous fruits had higher returns on labour, used more intensive production technologies, produced more per hectare and benefited from a more stable resource base, than those relying on wild collection (Ruiz-Perez et al., 2004). These studies, therefore, suggest that the cultivation of wild fruit trees will become more important as rural households move from subsistence to a cash-oriented economy.
Ajayi, O.C. (2007) User acceptability of soil fertility management technologies: lessons from farmers' knowledge, attitude and practices in southern Africa. Journal of Sustainable Agriculture 30(3), 2140.
Akinnifesi, F.K., Kwesiga, F.R., Mhango, J., Mkonda, A., Chilanga, T. and Swai, R. (2004a) Domesticating priority miombo indigenous fruit trees as a promising livelihood option for smallholder farmers in southern Africa. Acta Horticulturae 632, 1530.
Akinnifesi, F.K., Kwesiga, F., Mhango, J., Chilanga, T., Mkonda, A., Kadu, C.A.C., Kadzere, I., Mithofer, D., Saka, J.D.K., Sileshi, G., Ramadhani, T. and Dhliwayo, P. (2006) Towards the development of miombo fruit trees as commercial tree crops in southern Africa, Forests, Trees and Livelihoods 16, 103121.
Caradang, W.M., Tolentino, E.L., Jr and Roshetko, J. (2006) Smallholder tree nursery operations in southern Phillipines: supporting mechanisms for timber tree domestication. Forests, Trees and Livelihoods 16, 7184.
Cornelius, J.P., Clement, C.R., Weber, J.C., Sotelo-Montes, C., van Leeuwen, J., Ugarte-Guerra, L.J., Ricse-Tembladera, A. and Arevalo-Lopez, L. (2006) The trade-off between genetic gain and conservation in a participatory improvement programme: the case of peach palm (Bactris gasipaes Kunth). Forests, Trees and Livelihoods 16, 1734.
Dubois, J.C.L. (1995) Silvicultural and agrosilvicultural practices in Amazonian native and traditional communities. In: IUFRO XX World Congress, Tampere, Finland. IUFRO, Vienna, p. A67. Dubois, J.C.L., Viana, V.M. and Anderson, A.B. (1996) Manual Agroflorestal para Amazonia. REBRAF, Rio de Janeiro, 228 pp.
Fiedler, L. (2004) Adoption of indigenous fruit tree planting in Malawi. MSc thesis, University of Hannover, Germany, 79 pp.
Kang, B.T. and Akinnifesi, F.K. (2000) Agroforestry as alternative land-use production systems for the tropics. Natural Resources Forum 24, 137151.
Kumar, B.M. and Nair, P.K.R. (2004) The enigma of tropical homegardens. Agroforestry Systems 61, 135154.
Leakey, R.R.B. and Tomich, T.P. (1999) Domestication of tropical trees; from biology to economics and policy. In: Buck, L.E., Lassoie, J. and Fernandes, E.C.M. (eds) Agroforestry in Sustainable Agriculture Systems. CRC Press/Lewis Publishers, New York, pp. 319338.
Leakey, R.R.B., Tchoundjeu, Z., Schreckenberg, K., Shackleton, S.E. and Shackleton, C.M. (2005) Agroforestry tree products (AFTPs): targeting poverty reduction and enhanced livelihoods. International Journal for Agricultural Sustainability 3, 123. Lodoen, D. (1998) Cameroon cocoa agroforests: planting hope for small-holder farmers. Agroforestry Today, OctDec 1998, pp. 34.
Michon, G. and de Foresta, H. (1996) Agroforests as alternative to pure plantations for the domestication and commercialization of NTFPs. In: Leakey, R.R.B., Temu, A.B., Melnyk, M. and Vantomme, P. (eds) Domestication and Commercialization of Non-timber Forest Products in Agroforestry Systems. Non-wood Forest Products No. 9. FAO, Rome, pp. 160175.
Michon, G. and de Foresta, H. (1997) Agroforests: pre-domestication of forest trees or true domestication of forest ecosystems? Netherlands Journal of Agricultural Science 45, 451462.
Mithöfer, D. (2005) Economics of indigenous fruit tree crops in Zimbabwe. PhD thesis, Department of Economics and Business Administration, University of Hannover, Germany. Mithöfer, D. and Waibel, H. (2003) Income and labour productivity of collection and use of indigenous fruit tree products in Zimbabwe. Agroforestry Systems 59, 295305.
Okafor, J.C. (1983) Varietal delimitation in Dacryodes edulis (G. Don) H.J. Lam. (Burseraceae). International Tree Crops Journal 2, 255265.
Penn, J.W. (2006) The cultivation of camu camu (Myrciaria dubia): a tree planting programme in the Peruvian Amazon. Forests, Trees and Livelihoods 16, 85102.
Rompaey, R.V. (2005) Distribution and ecology of Allanblackia spp. (Clusiaceae) in African rainforests: with special attention to the development of a wild picking system of the fruits. Report to Unilever Research Laboratories, Vlaardingen, The Netherlands.
Ruffo, C.K., Birnie, A. and Tengnas, B. (2002) Edible Plants of Tanzania. RELMA Technical Handbook Series 27. Regional Land Management Unit, Nairobi, 766 pp.
Ruiz-Perez, M., Belcher, B., Achdiawan, R., Alexiades, M., Aubertin, C., Caballero, J., Campbell, B., Clement, C., Cunningham,T., Martinez, A., Jong, W. de, Kusters, K., Kutty, M.G., Lopez, C., Fu, M., Alfaro, M.A., Nair, T.K., Ndoye, O., Ocampo, R., Rai, N., Ricker, M., Schreckenberg, K., Shakleton, S., Shanley, P., Sun, T. and Young, Y.-C. (2004) Markets drive the specialization strategies of forest peoples. Ecology and Society 9, 19.
Russell, D. and Franzel, S. (2004) Trees of prosperity: agroforestry, markets and the African smallholder. Agroforestry Systems 61, 345355.
Schreckenberg, K., Awono, A., Degrande, A., Mbosso, C., Ndoye, O. and Tchoundjeu, Z. (2006) Domesticating indigenous fruit trees as a contribution to poverty reduction. Forests, Trees and Livelihoods 16, 3552.
Teklehaimanot, Z. (2004) Exploiting the potential of indigenous agroforestry trees: Parkia biglobosa and Vitellaria paradoxa in sub-Saharan Africa. Agroforestry Systems 61, 207220.
Weber, J.C., Sotelo-Montes, C., Vidaurre, H., Dawson, I.K. and Simons, A.J. (2001) Participatory domestication of agroforestry trees: an example from Peruvian Amazon. Development in Practice 11, 425433.
Wiersum, K.F. (1997) From natural forest to tree crops: co-domestication of forests and tree species an overview. Netherlands Journal of Agricultural Science 45, 425438.
Wiersum, K.F. (2004) Forest gardens as an 'intermediate' land-use system in the nature continuum: characteristics and future potential. Agroforestry Systems 61, 123134.
Wynberg, R.P., Laird, S.A., Shackleton, S., Mander, M., Shackleton, C., du Plessis, P., den Adel, S., Leakey, R.R.B., Botelle, A., Lombard, C., Sullivan, C., Cunningham, A.B. and O'Regan, D. (2003) Marula policy brief: marula commercialisation for sustainable and equitable livelihoods. Forests, Trees and Livelihoods 13, 203215.
This article was excerpted and revised with permission from the authors and publisher from:
Akinnifesi, F.K., G. Sileshi, O.C. Ajayi and Z. Tchoundjeu. 2007. Indigenous Fruit Tree Domestication. In: F.K. Akinnefesi, R.B. Leakey, O.C. Ajayi, G. Sileshi, Z. Tchoundjeu, P. Matacala, F.R. Kwesiga, Indigenous Fruit Trees in the Tropics Domestication, Utilization and Commercialization. CABI, Wallingford, UK. p. 464.
For more information about this title, contact:
Wallingford, OX10 8DE, UK
Fax: +44 1491 833508
About the authors
Festus K. Akinnifesi, PhD, is a Senior Tree Scientist with the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), PO Box 30798, Lilongwe, Malawi.
Gudeta Sileshi, PhD, is a Pest Management Scientist with the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), PO Box 30798, Lilongwe Malawi.
Oluyede C. Ajayi, PhD, is an Agricultural Economist with the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), PO Box 30798, Lilongwe, Malawi.
Zac Tchoundjeu, PhD, is a Principal Tree Scientist with the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) West and Central Africa Region, Humid Tropic Node, BP 16317, Yaounde, Cameroon.
Related editions to The Overstory
- The Overstory #162--Agroforestry Tree Products (AFTPs): Markets
- The Overstory #145--Wild Foods and Food Security
- The Overstory #139--"Hungry season" food from the forests
- The Overstory #136--Underutilised Indigenous Fruit Trees
- The Overstory #135--Medicinal and Aromatic Plants in Agroforestry
- The Overstory #128--Wild Foods
- The Overstory #127--Food Security
- The Overstory #117--Between Wildcrafting and Monocultures
- The Overstory #106--The Hidden Bounty of the Urban Forest
- The Overstory #71--Nontimber Forest Products (temperate)
- The Overstory #56--Integrating Understory and Tree Crops
- The Overstory #55--Nontimber Forest Products Part II: NTFP Enterprises
- The Overstory #53--Nontimber Forest Products--An Introduction
- The Overstory #31--Tree Domestication