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Indigenous African fruits, a “jam” hidden in plain sight.

Indigenous African fruits, a “jam” hidden in plain sight. Image

Posted on 20 March 2020, by Makhosi Mahlangu

As one goes through various literature on the role of Recommended Daily Allowances (RDA), of nutrients, it is a rather mammoth task to come across any tangible African indigenous fruits that have been studied intrinsically and extensively. There is a big challenge with Africa, which needs to be rectified with absolute urgency. Firstly, the vast majority of people in Africa reside in the rural areas and those in the urban areas have little familiarity or interest in their indigenous fruits. The majority of people mostly in rural areas consume indigenous fruits which are mostly not documented by the so called “affluent and developed urban folks”. For instance in some African countries we have indigenous food markets which are poorly developed and rarely ever marketed as compared to the urban food markets. Two examples that I have personally bore witness to are the Yeoville Pan-African Market in Johannesburg and the Shasha Market in Bulawayo which are sorely centered on African traditional foods respectively. Both markets largely cater for the African population that has chosen to stay true to their African roots, especially where food is concerned that is.

Watermelon is African FOOD…

 We also have an urban populous who little to no knowledge on indigenous fruits. There are African individuals willing to promote and consume exotic fruits over their indigenous fruits. They have shunned their own fruits and will ridicule their own indigenous fruits in a heartbeat. It then makes it all the more complicated to promote and bring awareness to our fellow Africans who chose to leave the village, as they aspire to become like Europeans in every sense right down to the minutest details. Our education system teaches and promotes the history, culture, traditions and poetry of foreigners. We are taught from a very tender age, the benefits of a balanced diet. We learn about fruits such as apples, bananas, kiwis to mention but a few of which have these have no relevance whatsoever in our villages. Unfortunately all of this is introduced as early as kindergarten which is a critical stage in building a solid knowledge foundation. We thus become ambassadors of foreign fruits from a very young age. The various charts and booklets only direct their attention towards foreign fruits. Fruits such as strawberries and grapes are somewhat glorified owing to the sophistication and status quo linked to them. Expectant mothers in hospitals are shown various charts with exotic fruits detailing the benefits necessary for baby’s growth. The journey gets complicated when one gets to universities which are the highest institutes of local research. Most people in the system want to become like-minded with the foreign folk except for a few PAN-African thinkers, who are often thought of as being radicals, as you peruse through current studies from journals there is very little research on local edible fruits.

The famous Amarula

Most of the funding from funding institutes do not channel their funds towards local food research initiatives. This is rather obvious because many a time the researcher has to source his own funds towards the development of our indigenous foods. Therefore one can safely and logically rather say that it does not quite hold water to expect foreigners to fund the development of our own food industry. For this reason the charts we find across Africa have no indigenous fruits. The nutrients in these foods have not been fully explored to their fullest potential. Unfortunately, Africans seem to sorely depend on funding (usually from foreign sources) to study their own foods it makes the whole cycle precarious. How do you need money to document yourself?  food for thought, sad as it may be, this is the reality for the African layman. All hope is not totally lost though, as in the recent years our indigenous fruits such as the baobab are making it into the global market and it is considered nature’s gift to natural food fortification. Tamarind is relatively high in calcium, the highest found in any fruit. Watermelons are found across Africa and are high in carotenoids especially beta-carotene and lycopene. Marula seeds and its fruit on the other hand are a rich source of fat, protein and minerals which are a crucial food supplement during periodic droughts or the annual hunger season. The future of African fruits will depend on:

  1. Improving harvesting techniques, processing and marketing of indigenous fruits
  2. Improving standards and hygiene levels
  3. Identification and developing superior varieties
  4. Improving the markets and infrastructure
  5. Individuals developing, growth, harvest and maintenance routines
  6. Increasing the awareness of indigenous African foods
Let us eat natures finest…

Indigenous African fruits substantially relieve poverty in Africa and should be seriously considered in development agendas in all African communities.