Thursday, January 13, 2011

Feeding Ourselves 2

The wild African black plum (vitex doniana) has great potential as a by-product of a revered—and useful—native tree. The greatest economic potential of the vitex trees probably lies in the wood and leaves. But black plums support diets and incomes throughout the life of the tree. Black plums are common across tropical sub-Saharan Africa’s coastal savannas and savanna woodlands. The black plum tree is not domesticated, but it is widely utilized and protected and is often found at the center of West African villages.

The olive-shaped fruit has a sweet, prune-like taste with a hint of chocolate. It is believed to have high levels of vitamins A & B. The fruit makes good quality jellies and jams as well as a black molasses. A beverage similar in flavor to coffee is also made from roasted fruits. Young, leafy shoots from the tree are picked, boiled, seasoned, and eaten like spinach.

The tree is used for a variety of medicinal purposes as well. The edible parts of the tree are traditionally prescribed for anemia, due to high iron and potassium content. Leaves are also eaten to treat dysentery. Bark extracts are believed to be useful treatments for jaundice, toothaches, leprosy, and other skin ailments. Some traditions use the bark to improve fertility in women.

In addition to its edibility, the leaves, pods, and seeds make excellent fodder for goats, sheep, and cattle. The trees are especially utilized for livestock fodder during dry seasons and drought. Its long roots can reach deep groundwater pockets, which keeps its leaves green much longer than the grasses that livestock usually depends on. Beekeepers value the tree as a base for their beehives. Abundant white flowers attract bees, and beekeepers like to hang hives in the branches or in a hollowed out trunk of a black plum tree.

It is nitrogen fixing, meaning it adds nitrogen to the soils it grows in. Whether the tree is growing throughout the field or along boundaries, crops can benefit from natural soil nutrients. Shade from the tree can protect from over-exposure to the tropical sun. Leaves from the tree are also used as nutrient-rich mulch. Its nitrogen fixing abilities encourage soil health and its deep roots protect soils from erosion, benefitting other plant life. In this way, it could be utilized for rebuilding degraded native ecosystems. Timber harvested from black plum trees is medium hard and is similar to teak. It is termite resistant, making it favored as a building material. It is known to be used for making furniture, boats, chairs, and drums and is good for carving. It also makes quality firewood and charcoal.

Native to the humid, tropical forests of West and Central Africa, safou (Dacryodes edulis) is also known as the “butterfruit” for its rich, oily pulp. Safou is still not widely domesticated.

People in West and Central Africa have been eating safou for centuries as a fresh fruit between meals and cooked as a main course. When roasted or quickly boiled in salted water, the pulp separates from the skin and seed and takes on a buttery texture. In Nigeria, cooked pulp is combined with starchy foods like maize to make a main course. And if cooked for even longer, a healthy oil, primarily made up of unsaturated fats, can be extracted from the pulp and seed. Like its name-sake, butter, safou is high in fats and very calorie-dense. But unlike butter, safou is also high in amino acids, the chemical building blocks of proteins. Concentrations of some its essential amino acids, such as lysine and leucine, are comparable to concentrations found in eggs and meat. Plus, the fruit is also high in micronutrients and minerals, particularly potassium, calcium, and magnesium, making safou a super food with the potential to help alleviate hunger and malnutrition.

Its wood is stiff and elastic, making it useful for tool handles. The bark produces a resin that makes both a glue for mending pottery and topical treatment for jiggers, a parasitic flea that embeds itself in the skin. And the leaves and roots are also found in a variety of traditional medicines used to treat everything from dysentery to joint pain.

Monkey oranges have all the characteristics of a successful crop–high productivity, extended shelf life, pest resistance, delicious flavor, and high demand. But , the fruit remains undomesticated and has rarely undergone organized cultivation. Monkey orange trees are similar in shape and size to apple, pear, and orange trees.The grapefruit-sized fruit tends to be yellow, orange, or brown, and emits a sweet scent with a touch of clove. They are known for their delicious sweet and sour flavor and are rich in vitamin C and in B vitamins. It is traditionally eaten raw, or made into jam, juice, or fruit wine. A mature tree can bear 300 to 400 fruits per year. Indigenous to tropical and subtropical Africa, they are capable of growing in arid and semi-arid areas and in poor and rocky soils. Their tough outer shells make them resistant to fungi and fruit flies and protect them from being easily damaged in transport and storage. They have an exceptional ability to remain edible in tropical heat for months after fruit maturity. Monkey oranges could be used to produce juices and dry fruit roll. They are a source of shade and erosion protection, and the wood is commonly used for firewood, tool handles, and building poles.

The locust bean is indigenous to the savannah regions of Africa, and most commonly found in the band stretching from Senegal to Uganda. The fruit pulp and seed extracts provide nutritious ingredients for traditional soups, sweetmeats and condiments across West Africa. The locust bean is also extremely hardy; it is well suited to a wide range of soils, it survives fires, thrives in semiarid tropical climates, and has a low susceptibility to pests and diseases. The tree has a wide-reaching crown and can grow more than 20 meters tall.

The sugary pulp can be eaten raw, used in traditional sweetmeats or mixed with water to make a refreshing drink. While the pulp makes for a good energy snack, the seeds are the plant’s most sought after product. Rich in protein, starch, fiber, sugar, and fat, as well as vitamins and minerals, such as calcium and iron, the seeds are about as nutritionally balanced a food as you can find. Because the pods mature during “the hunger season,” when most other vegetation has dried, the locust bean is a true lifesaver – it can be a source of emergency food with a high nutritional value.The seeds are famous for their greasy extract, which is fermented and pressed into cakes or balls, known in West Africa as dawadawa. It has a pungent odor, often compared to that of aged cheese, and is used as a condiment or an ingredient for soup.

Its leaves are so rich in nitrogen and other minerals, that they are often collected as manure for soil improvement.

Referred to as a “supermarket on a trunk,moringa is potentially one of the planet’s most valuable plants. Serving not only as a reliable source of diverse foods, moringa also provides lamp oil, wood, paper, liquid fuel, skin treatments, and the means to help purify water.

The moringa tree comprises 4 different edible parts: pods, leaves, seeds, and roots. The green-bean looking pods are the most sought-after parts, not only because of their taste – similar to asparagus – but also because they are highly nutritious. They provide a good balance of amino acids and minerals and possess one of the highest vitamin C levels of any tropical vegetable. The moringa leaves are also an excellent source of nutrition. People commonly boil the tiny leaflets and eat them like spinach. Like the pods, the leaves contain vitamins A and C as well as more calcium than most other greens. These leaves also contain such high levels of iron that doctors frequently prescribe them for anemic patients. Before fully mature, pods can also be picked for their soft seeds. The seeds can be boiled and eaten like fresh peas, or fried to taste more like peanuts. Seeds can also be pressed for oil that can be used for cooking, medicinal ointments, lamp fuel, or even as an ingredient in soap. The thick, soft roots are another important food resource, and are usually used to make a condiment similar to horseradish. Boiling roots and shoot tips is also common because of their high-protein content.

Researchers have found that mixing crushed moringa seeds with polluted water help settle silt and other contaminants. This is highly cost effective because the seeds can replace the expensive imported material usually used for water purification in rural areas. The seed filtered water still needs a final filtration before it is completely drinkable, but the seeds make the process easier and help other water filters last longer.While smoke from household fires can pollute the air, the soft, spongy moringa wood burns cleanly with little smoke or smell, making it a more healthy source of fuel.

Indigenous to West Africa, a Dika tree can grow to be as tall as 40 meters and produces a small green and yellow fruit that looks, at first glance, like a small mango.

Its fruit ranges in taste from sweet to bitter and can be enjoyed—especially the sweeter varieties—fresh off the tree, or made into jelly, jam or “African-mango juice.”But while the fruit is a delicious treat, the seeds are where the real value can be found. Resembling smooth walnuts, Dika seeds are cracked open by harvesters to collect the edible kernel contained inside. These kernals can be eaten raw or roasted, but most are processed and pounded into Dika butter or compacted into bars or pressed to produce a cooking oil. The seeds also produce a unique flavor when crushed and are combined with the other spices to make “ogbono soup,” a common dish.

Teff is an indigenous grain grown on the dry plateaus of Ethiopia. Teff grows very well under difficult conditions such as unpredictable rainfall and is usually left alone by pests and disease.

Teff is rich in nutrients, providing all eight essential amino acid, and is a great source of carbohydrates and fiber. It is also high in the nutritionally important minerals calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, aluminum, iron, copper, zinc, boron, barium, and thiamin. In Ethiopia, teff is commonly consumed as a homemade fermented beverage, as a gruel called muk, and as a sweet and dry unleavened bread called kita. It is also made into flour and cooked into injera, a flat, spongy, slightly sour bread that is consumed with most meals.

Not only is teff good for eating, it is also a common construction material, with the straw being used to reinforce houses made from mud and plaster. It also is given to livestock as fodder, and farmers in Eritrea and Ethiopia say that cattle prefer it to other types of fodder.

The pigeonpea is grown by subsistence farmers in warm semi-arid and sub-humid tropics, often in poor soils with little to no chemical inputs thanks to its hardiness and drought-tolerance.the food is a staple for diets in India, southern and eastern Africa, and Central America. It’s also used extensively as a cover crop, to create a hedge or windbreak, or as green manure in many sustainable farming systems and home gardens in the tropics and subtropics because of its ability to grow in warm temperatures.

The pigeonpea can help improve food security because it requires minimal water or inputs, can cope with poor soil and little water, yet still produces yields of grain that contain more than 20 percent protein, which is especially important for countries facing hunger and malnutrition.In addition to its nutritious and hardy benefits, the cowpea is also is a nitrogen-fixing legume which gives it great potential to improve soil quality and–when grown together with other pasture plants–to create a highly fertile, productive and sustainable livestock feeding system. The leaves, flowers, seed pods and peas all provide a nutritious animal fodder, not to mention attracting bees that help it to self-propagate. When planted around young fruit trees they provide shelter without over-shading and the trimmings can be used as mulch with the nitrogen from its root nodules nourishing the tree.

Amaranth is a small vegetable indigenous to Africa, mchicha in Swahili. In lowland areas of West African countries such as Nigeria, Amaranth greens are commonly eaten boiled. Its mild flavor and tender texture complements many starchy dishes well. Young plants can be eaten whole, and young leaves can be harvested continuously from mature plants. A nutritious vegetable, amaranth leaves are high in vitamins A, K, B6, C, riboflavin and folate; and essential minerals including calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper, and manganese. Due to its high iron content, it is recommended for those at risk for anemia. It is also an important source of protein. Some African populations rely on amaranth leaves for as much as 25 percent of their daily protein intake during its growing season.

With a toasted flavor similar to popcorn when cooked, amaranth seeds are small in size but a good source of carbohydrate and protein (15-17 percent by weight). It is rich in the amino acids methionine, cycteine and has the highest content of lysine compare with all grains. It also has three times the fiber of wheat. Often milled into flour, bread made from amaranth seeds is gluten free and has a rich, nutty flavor.

Amaranth has been demonstrated in various studies to contain blood pressure and cholesterol lowering properties. Consuming amaranth leaf, seed or oil may prove beneficial for those with hypertension or cardiovascular disease.

Amaranth, especially the Elephant Head variety, displays useful properties as a companion plant for crops including bell peppers, corn, onion and potato—It helps loosen hard soil, acts as a trap for pests such as leaf miners, and provides sheltering for beetles, predators of insects pests.

The eggplant most commonly found across sub-Saharan Africa is Solanum aethiopicum. This variety has a brilliant red exterior, and is about the size and shape of an egg—giving it the name, garden egg. It is also known as mock tomato, ngogwe and nyanya chungu. hough technically a fruit, it is usually picked when it is green and is eaten as a vegetable; cooked into stews and sauces or even consumed raw. If picked after it is ripe, it can be enjoyed as a fruit—though some varieties are more sour than others. And, even the nutrient-rich leaves have come to be a popular meal. And even though the fruit is not well known for its nutritional content—it is 92 percent water—it also provides vitamin B, beta-carotene and vitamin C in addition to calcium, iron and potassium.

The plant itself can grow in “agricultural wastelands,” are somewhat drought resistant, and have the ability to grow in humid areas. The garden eggs have even proven to be resistant to molds, mildews and certain soil-borne plant-pathogens. They can also be grown alongside other crops or in small pots providing a high yield of fruit from a small area. The farmer will typically first harvest the fruit after 70 to 90 days when it is still immature and after that, 8 to 10 weekly harvests can be reaped. Once harvested, the eggplant can be stored for up to three months and some consumers dry the fruit to eat later in the year.

From humid lowlands to dry highlands, the lablab is easy to plant and even easier to care for. It stays green and productive throughout the dry season when food is generally hard to come by.

The pods, seeds, and leaves of the lablab are all edible and utilized in a variety of different meals–though its raw, dry seeds can be poisonous if not prepared correctly. The young pods are most often picked from the stalk and eaten like green beans or snow peas, but they can also be cooked and added to soups and stews. The leaves can be eaten whole or made into a seasoning herb for other dishes.

While the pods and leaves look similar to those of other legume varieties, they have much higher protein content and are an excellent source of iron. They also contain a good balance of amino acids, making lablab pods a good complement for cereal-based diets.

In India, dried seeds are split like lentils and used in making stews and soups. They are also sprouted, soaked in water, shelled, boiled, and smashed into a paste, which is fried with spices and used as a condiment. In Africa, lablab seeds are often boiled with maize, ground and fried, or added to soups as well. They are also included in traditional dish that is a mixture of maize, beans, bananas, potatoes, and green vegetables, all boiled down into a protein-rich paste.

In addition to being used as a source of food, lablab grows quickly and provides high yields, making it ideal for grazing for cattle, sheep, goats, and pigs. It can also easily be intercropped, restoring nitrogen to soils and helping repair degraded farm land. It is considered a good cover crop in coffee and coconut plantations and is often planted as a second recovery crop in rice fields after the harvest. Lablab plants are also used to form hedges in urban settings. In Guyana, the government has encouraged city dwellers to grow ornamental varieties along fence lines to both provide protein for households and decoration for yards and along the street.

The cowpea, or kunde as it is called in Swahili (also known as blackeyed pea throughout the Americas), originates in the center of Africa and is one of the oldest crops known on the continent. Cowpea is extremely drought resistant and adapted to poor soil—making it a useful staple crop for farmers in areas facing increasingly extreme water scarcity and hot temperatures due to climate change. It is estimated that over 200 million people in Africa subsist on a diet consisting mainly of the crop.

Cowpea is an important source of protein and other nutrients. A member of the grain legume family, cowpea improves the body’s absorption and breakdown of other main foods like rice, maize, and cassava. Cowpea is also rich in oil and digestible carbohydrate.

Eaten at different stages throughout its development, cowpea forms the basis of a wide variety of meals. The leaves and young pods can be eaten like vegetables while the seeds are eaten as a side dish, or made into sauces or dry grain. The seeds are also ground into flour that can be pressed into deep fried cakes called akara balls or steamed cakes known as moin-moin. Cowpea meal is used to make puddings, porridges, and soups.

During especially dry years, when stockfeed is low, the stems and leaves of cowpea are used to feed livestock. The stems and leaves can also be dried and stored for the off season when fodder for livestock is scarce.

Not only good for those who cultivate and eat it, the cowpea is also beneficial to the soil in which it grows. It’s deep tap root—the part that makes it so tolerant to dry growing conditions—helps to stabilize soil, while its shade and dense cover help preserve moisture. Like all legumes, cowpea helps to fix nitrogen in the soil, making anywhere it grows more hospitable to other vegetables and staple crops. An annual crop, the cowpea’s seeds remain viable for several years and it is generally grown intercropped or in relay with maize, cassava, groundnuts, sorghum or pearl millet.

While the process of baking bread may vary from culture to culture, there are a few essential ingredients utilized by bread makers the world over. They include: flour, yeast, water, and salt. Researchers at the Food Technology Institute of Dakar, Senegal, however, have decided to break with tradition by adding a rather unconventional ingredient to their bread batter—black-eyed peas. Without sacrificing taste, bread made by substituting 15 percent of the wheat flour for black-eyed pea flour, is 40 percent cheaper than its all-wheat equivalent—and more nutritious. Imported rice and wheat have overshadowed this nutritious crop that is rich in both potassium and vitamins A and C.

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