NON-TIMBER FOREST PRODUCTS FROM VELD PRODUCT RESEARCH & DEVELOPMENT - PROTECTING AFRICA'S FORESTS
Veld Products, Botswana. Veld Product Research & Development - Protecting Africa's Forests.


Indigenous Fruit Tree Research Programme (IFTRP)

The primary focus of VPR&D's agricultural activities has been propagation for the domestication of indigenous fruit trees. Emphasis in this area is due to the urgent need to develop viable alternatives to arable agriculture for those regions in Africa, which continually struggle with problems of marginal soils, erratic rainfall and recurring droughts. The potential for the successful domestication of indigenous fruit trees is high, as the trees are well adapted to such adverse conditions. In addition, the trees are ideally suited for rural communities to replace and/or supplement the decline in natural resources around villages and settlements. In addition to being environmentally friendly and preserving plant biodiversity in semi-arid Botswana, VPR&D seeks to provide alternative forms of agriculture which provide greater food security. Research into the domestication of indigenous fruit trees started in 1989 and currently, VPR&D has become one of the regional leaders in this field.

The main objective of the programme is:

"To domesticate and promote the planting and management of indigenous fruit trees and other plants of socio-economic importance with the participation of rural communities."

Superior Phenotypes

The term "superior phenotype" in the context of indigenous fruit trees, refers to any characteristic or trait of a tree which is of a relatively higher quality in terms of production, sweetness and size of fruit produced. That is, trees, which produce a lot of fruit or fruit that is large and sweet, are ones considered to be superior phenotypes. In an attempt to locate such trees, VPR&D has undertaken countrywide competitions among primary school children which begun in 1992. The primary schools are in rural areas closest to undisturbed, wild fruit trees. The competitions were started in an effort to identify the superior phenotypes of indigenous fruit trees of socio-economic importance. The weight, size, sugar and acidity of the competition entries are measured. The top 10 entries of each species are then tagged as superior phenotypes and used for planting trials and later, genetic improvement research. VPR&D is targeting 10 superior phenotypes from each of the following species; morula (Sclerocarya birrea), mogorogorwane (wild orange, Strychnos cocculoides), mmilo (wild medlar, Vanuaria infausta), morojwa (African chewing gum, Azanza garckeana) and mongongo (manketti nut trees, Schinziophyton rautanenii).

Propagation

In an attempt to maintain the superior phenotype identified throughout a species, a process of propagation is employed. This is where the parts of the tree, including the seed, are harvested and grown under controlled conditions. By this process, improved tree seedlings are being made available to the public. Moreover, such research is significant in evaluating the performance of seedlings in traditional areas as well as new geographical locations.

Trials

Currently, 18 planting trials have been established around Botswana mainly to identify which locations allow optimum for the growth and fruit production for each of the selected species. For example, research has shown that morojwa is adaptable to most areas whereas mmilo has not survived those areas that are frost-prone.

A further significance of the trials deals with grafting. As some fruit tree species have trees that are both male and female, and because it is important to be sure that trees planted for fruit production are female, a process of grafting is utilised. Grafting is when a seedling is joined with a piece of stem from the chosen superior tree to ensure the transfer of preferred characteristics. The process also ensures the preferred sex of the resulting seedling, which is important as in the case of morula. A grafted female morula tree will start producing fruit 3 to 5 years after being planted in the field whereas an ungrafted female tree can take 10 to 12 years.

The exercise of establishing planting trials throughout Botswana has introduced rural populations to the concept of tree planting. To date, approximately 140 households in the Kweneng District have voluntarily planted 1000 or more trees in their yards. According to data recorded, there has been a 75% survival rate among trees planted by households and assisted by VPR&D staff. The indications strongly suggest there is a high potential to improve the livelihoods of the communities through the planting of indigenous fruit trees as well as to foster motivation and self-reliance. VPR&D also aims to involve young people in various planting trials. Students participate in data collection, irrigation and the protection of the trees planted in Community Junior Secondary Schools throughout Botswana.

It is hoped that during, as well as following formal education, students will gain the knowledge to plant and maintain indigenous fruit trees on their own.

Nursery activities

Prior to 1996 there had been no specialist fruit tree nursery in Botswana and very few Batswana ever planted fruit trees. Currently however, there is an increasing interest among communities to learn about, and begin planting indigenous fruit trees (trees which require no irrigation two years after the tree has been planted). Gabane Nurseries was thus established to raise seedlings for research as well is an eventual commercial outlet for income generation. The nursery also serves to familiarise people with the concepts and techniques of growing indigenous fruit trees and to encourage the idea as a feasible supplement to arable agriculture. Although the primary purpose of the nursery is to research the propagation of indigenous fruit trees, the nursery also studies and sells exotic fruit trees such as oranges, mangos and peaches, (trees which require sufficient amounts of irrigation).

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