Diversification of tree crops: domestication of companion crops for poverty reduction and environmental services


New initiatives in agroforestry are seeking to integrate indigenous trees, whose products have traditionally been gathered from natural forests, into tropical farming systems such as cacao farms. This is being done to provide from farms, marketable timber and non-timber forest products that will enhance rural livelihoods by generating cash for resource-poor rural and peri-urban households. There are many potential candidate species for domestication that have commercial potential in local, regional or even international markets. Little or no formal research has been carried out on many of these hitherto wild species to assess potential for genetic improvement, reproductive biology or suitability for cultivation. With the participation of subsistence farmers a number of projects to bring candidate species into cultivation are in progress, however. This paper describes some tree domestication activities being carried out in southern Cameroon, especially with Irvingia gabonensis (bush mango; dika nut) and Dacryodes edulis (African plum; safoutier). As part of this, fruits and kernels from 300 D. edulis and 150<i> I. gabonensis</i> trees in six villages of Cameroon and Nigeria have been quantitatively characterized for 11 traits to determine combinations defining multi-trait ideotypes for a genetic selection programme. I. gabonensis fruits are rich in vitamin A (67 mg 100 ml−1), while the kernels are rich in fat (51.3%) and contain a polysaccharide that is a food thickener. The fruits of D. edulis are also rich in oil (31.9%) and protein (25.9%). This poverty-reducing agroforestry strategy is at the same time linked to one in which perennial, biologically diverse and complex mature-stage agroecosystems are developed as sustainable alternatives to slash-and-burn agriculture. To meet the objective of poverty reduction, however, it is crucial that market expansion and creation are possible. Hence, for example, it is important to determine which marketable traits are amenable to genetic improvement. While some traits (such as fruit and kernel mass) that benefit the farmer are relatively easy to identify, there are undoubtedly others that are important to the food, pharmaceutical or other industries which require more sophisticated chemical evaluation. There is a need, therefore, for better linkages between agroforesters and the private sector. The domestication activities described are relevant to the enrichment of smallholder cacao farms and agroforests. This diversification is seen as being important for the support of the cacao industry.


Experimental Agriculture (2001) 37 (3) 279-296 [10.1017/S0014479701003015]

Diversification of tree crops: domestication of companion crops for poverty reduction and environmental services

Published 1 January 2001