Wild trees continue providing vital nutrients especially in arid and semi-arid areas of Kenya and the African continent.
From the baobab to papaya, the trees provide vitamins, mineral salts and other nutrients, to millions of vulnerable people in rural areas who cannot access markets to buy traditional fruits such mangoes and oranges
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), a minimum intake of 400 grams of fruits and vegetables per day is vital, in preventing heart related diseases, cancer, diabetes, obesity and deficiencies of micronutrients like vitamin A and zinc.
Fruit consumption in Africa
Available data shows that there is a shortfall in the intake of fruits at 22 percent, with the lowand middle-income countries falling an incredible 58 per cent short.
In East African countries, consumption is estimated to be a staggering one-sixth of the WHO requirement. Ethiopians get as little as 19 grams of fruit consumed daily.
Researchers now feel that some indigenous trees should be recognised as sources of vital nutrients, to curb the yawning gap between demand and supply of fruit nutrients.
A survey by the Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) revealsrural people across all agro-ecological zones in Zambia had eaten wild fruits, more than twice, as frequently as cultivated fruits in the previous seven days.
Wild trees whose nutrient value is bafflingly high
Equally, the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) has identified a number of trees whose nutrient value to local rural populace has been baffling researchers.
“We have strong evidence of their value and they may be contributing even more than we had previously known”, observed Dr. Stepha McMullin, a researcher with ICRAF.
Among the trees believed to be rich in vitamins, and can be substitutes to local fruits are the desert dates (Balanities Aegyptiaca), Borassus Aethiopum (Tugo in Luo and Mwomu in Swahili) and Ziziphus Mauritiana.
The desert dates (Balanitiesaegyptiaca) is a common bush tree in Kenya and grows well in arid and semi-arid areas such a Kerio Valley, Voi and Tana River.
According to ICRAF, the tree’s fruit is a source of iron and calcium when dried.
When fresh, it has proportionally as much vitamin C as an orange.
New leaves are nutrient-rich dry season vegetable. Extracts from the fruit and its bark kill hosts of bilharzia and carriers of Guinea worm.
The desert date tree can be re-generated by farmer managed natural re-generation, a method used to nature living stumps.
Seedlings and young trees, however, need protection from fire and livestock.
Borassus Aethiopum is a palm tree species growing in western Kenya and many countries in Africa.
Its fan-shaped leaves provide thatch, mats, medicine, beehives, tool handles, oils, soaps and termite and fungi resistant poles and timber.
Their large fruits are rich in vitamin C.
The presence of the tree in any farm increases the yield of crops such as sorghum.
Policy makers should take note
“Given how much they show up in the research and in markets, it is baffling that so few policymakers and practitioners recognise the role of these trees,” observed Dr Amy Ickowitz, a researcher with CIFOR who studies dietary quality and tree cover.
On its part, Ziziphus is a hardy tree that copes with extreme temperatures.
Its fruits contain high levels of minerals, vitamin C and B complex.
The fruit can be eaten fresh, dried, juiced or pounded. Most important, for reforestation, Ziziphus grows well from direct seeding and it is an ideal agroforestry tree.
Research has shown the tree increased millet yields by 41 per cent when inter-cropped.