By: Mohammed A. Abu
Professor Kenneth Fafa Egbadzor,the Lead Researcher of the Domestication of the African Baobab Project at the Ho Technical University(HTU) in Ghana’s Volta Region,who is also, a plant breeding expert, has noted that even though, research has established that there are over 300 different uses of Baobab but yet, the plant is undomesticated and underutilized.
The African baobab he said, also referred to as, “the wooden elephant” is also included among those crops referred to as orphan, meaning that they do not receive research attention.
Ghana, Africa cannot derive optimum benefit from plants in the wild and thus,the need for domestication of the tree crop is very important.That is what he said, underpins this “crazy ambition” of intensive research work of reducing the maturity period of the wild growing plant from fourteen (14 years) to two (2 years).
Professor Egbadzor in an interview with your favourite, the Eco-Enviro News Africa magazine intimated that he and his team is not only passionate about domesticating the African baobab, but also, bent on advocating for its integration into mainstream agriculture (farming) and encouraging its utilization.
All the improved crops (soy, maize, rice, cocoa etc.) varieties we have today Professor Egbadzor noted, were once wild. However, through research and farming, they have been improved and significantly, they are different from their wild parents.
HTU in 2019 he recounted, started the baobab domestication project and the effort is already yielding appreciable results. “We have a big vision of seeing baobab being cultivated throughout Africa. Wild fruit gathering should be a thing of the past soon”. Professor Egbadzor declared.
Yield Potential: Domesticated Versus Wild Growing Baobab
On how the domesticated baobab would fare in terms of fruit yield per tree potential compared with the wild growing baobab he had this to say.
“We believe that it is possible to get higher yield from the domesticated baobab than from the wild. The size and number of fruits would directly contribute to the yield.
“We must also know that different varieties to be developed and the environment as well would also contribute to yield. So, at the moment we cannot be sure on exactly what level of yield to expect from a given variety of baobab. Time will tell”.Professor Egbadzor intimated.
On Fruit Quality of Domesticated Baobab
On whether the drastic reduction of the maturity period of the domesticated baobab would have any adverse effect on fruit phytochemicals and phytonutrients and with particular reference to its much touted relatively higher Vitamin C content he also had this to say.
“Fruit quality of the domesticated baobab is not expected to be different from the wild types. However, with time, the cultivated varieties would be the best selections from the wild. So, the researchers would be targeting the best from the wild. In crop improvement, we always aim at higher quality.”
Commercialized Farming of the Domesticated Baobab
On commercial scale cultivation of domesticated baobab, he disclosed that some farmers in the Ho Municipality and Adaklu District have already planted the HTU baobab.
More seedlings Prof said, would made available to farmers next year. HTU is also planting at the university. We have farmers from the Upper West region expressing interest but we are at the moment limited by fund.
Other Wild Trees Targeted for Domestication
Aside domesticating of the wild baobab other wild growing trees of remarkable socio-economic importance he and his team had their eyes on are Allanblackia, Locust bean and Bush mango adding that, their only limitation is funding
International Market Potential.
Baobab is a multi-purpose tree; its fruit pulp, seeds, leaves, flowers, roots and bark are used locally for human consumption. In 2008, the dried pulp harvested from baobab fruit was first approved for sale in the European Union (EU); it has seen high growth since then. Baobab fruit powder is made by grinding baobab dried fruit pulp, the only authorised baobab ingredient in food/health products on the European market.
The fruit powder contains Several health benefits have been associated with baobab powder. In Europe, it is commonly marketed as a food supplement that increases energy levels, supports immune health and improves digestive and general health.
It is mostly sold as a fruit powder, while some companies sell baobab powder in capsules, such as the company Bao-Med (the Netherlands). Most baobab powder on the market is organic-certified, as Europe has a limited market for non-certified baobab.
Baobab powder is used in food supplements because of its nutritional qualities. The company Aduna (United Kingdom) markets baobab powder with the claims ‘rich in vitamin C’, ‘high in fibre’ and ‘baobab is one of the most nutrient-dense foods in the world’.
The company markets baobab as ‘the feel-good fruit’. Golden Greens also highlights the vitamin C content of baobab, as well as labelling it ‘high in fibre and antioxidants’. Many companies market their baobab powder as ‘suitable for vegans/vegetarians’, as consumers are looking for products without animal-based ingredients.