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KALRO rolls out campaign to save neglected and underutilized indigenous fruits

Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) has rolled out a campaign to promote cultivation of underutilized indigenous fruits such as guavas, gooseberry and jack fruits on commercial scale.
Director of Crops Systems at KALRO Dr. Lusike Wasilwa said the neglected fruits were nutritious, climate resilient, economically viable in the right setting and adapt to local conditions, especially in marginal areas.
“In the past, these fruits have been ignored by agricultural research, not included in agricultural extension curricula, and did not benefit from organized value chains. However, due to their adaptability and nutritional qualities, they could make a major contribution to increased food availability, affordability and nutrition security,” stated Dr. Wasilwa.
In a paper dubbed “Underutilized Fruits for Improved Nutrition and Health”, Dr. Wasilwa indicated that combined effects of climate change, declining agricultural biodiversity, water scarcity and degradation of natural resources are challenging world’s food security.
She said Kenya needs interventions that will go beyond the promotion of current staple crops and include fruits and crops previously considered of secondary importance.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Director General José Graziano da Silva, these fruits have the potential to bolster dietary diversification, improve micro nutrient intake, enhance soil health, require fewer inputs such as chemical fertilizers, and often prove resilient to climate change and adverse farming conditions.
“More recent generations have changed their diets and moved away from many of these traditional fruits. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is working with our member countries to reinvigorate both production and consumption of these neglected and underutilized species.
FAO work has demonstrated that dependence on a few fruits and crops has negative consequences for ecosystems, food diversity and health. Such low dietary diversity is a leading cause of persistent malnutrition. We must make food and agriculture more nutrition-sensitive and climate-resilient,” states da Silva.
KALRO in partnership with USAID has already distributed 20,000 guava fruit seedlings, 20,000 jackfruit seedlings and 15,000 gooseberry seedlings to farmers in various rural parts of the country.
The project also targets to train over 50,000 farmers in the country on organized value addition chain in underutilized fruits.
“In 2016 we started educating farmers on growing, marketing and value addition in a bid to eradicate the negative perception that locals have had towards the fruits. Guavas have initially been treated as fruits to be fed on by birds or young boys.
They do offer a lot of health benefits as they are rich in antioxidants, vitamin C, potassium and fiber. Through value addition farmers can earn a lot of money by making guava juice” said Dr. Wasiliwa.
Food and soft drink manufacturers in the country who use guava as an ingredient import the fruit from Israel and Egypt yet Kenyan farmers have the capacity and potential to produce it. Two varieties of guava; red or pink and white are in high demand for industrial food processes.
Nutritionists have indicated that guavas also help in lowering blood sugar levels, improve immunity and have immense benefits to the digestive system.
Dr. Wasilwa indicated that Gooseberry can be used in flavoring baked products while its juice may be used to blend certain foods. It also comes with numerous benefits such as improving appetite, preventing heart diseases, helping in digestion and controlling sugar levels in the body.
Pomegranate, figs and tamarind fruits are also being targeted in the campaign with farmer training already completed at Muguga in Central Kenya and Busia in Western region.
Grafted guavas take an average of 3 years to mature with a potential yield of 40 kilograms per tree.
Jack fruits have a high vitamins and minerals content and are endowed with substantial amounts of protein. Through value addition the fruit can be used in the manufacture of jam, wine and antibiotics.
According to FAO only 103 out of the nearly 30 000 edible plant species worldwide provide up to 90 percent of the calories in the human diet. 60 to 80 percent of the world’s caloric intake comes from just a few staples such as maize, rice, wheat, soybean and potato.
“Even if traditional staple crops provide enough calories to prevent hunger, they do not provide all the nutrients necessary for a healthy diet. Current high levels of malnutrition is often due to unbalanced diets. Underutilized fruits and crops are the ultimate solution in developing more sustainable, nutrition-dense, climate-resilient and diversified food systems
Most of the neglected and underutilized fruits and crops are nutritionally dense, climate resilient, economically viable and locally available and adaptable,” states the FAO report.
FAO projections suggest that by 2050, agricultural production must increase by 50 percent globally to meet food demand. Increased production of traditional staple crops is unlikely to meet the demand.
Agricultural experts have indicated that the fruits have remained underutilized due to entrenched promotion and popularization of very few ‘alien’ fruit crops, fast disappearance of ecosystem and habitat destruction and disgrace attached to them as “Food of the Poor”.
Other factors that have relegated the fruits to the back-burner include inadequate research on their commercial exploitation, under estimation of their potential nutritional and economic importance and non-availability of their complete botanical information.
By Anne Mwale

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