Bioversity International: research for development in agricultural and tree biodiversity

Native fruit trees of life

04 Mar 2014

This year for International Women's Day, Bioversity has collected stories that inspire change. Here is the story of Mrs Rajeshwari and Mr Parameshwar, an Indian farming couple.

Mrs Rajeshwari and Mr Parameshwar are a farming couple who live in the village of Gonsar, located in the midst of lush evergreen forests, in the central Western Ghats of South India. Since the whole region is forested, local people are very much dependent on its forest resources, especially trees, and have been domesticating these in their farms, orchards and on other land types.

For the last fifty years, Mr Parameshwar and Ms Rajeshwari have been among the households involved in the domestication and conservation of many native fruit tree species and varieties. Some of these species are valued for making traditional recipes or for medicinal purposes, whereas others provide products for sale.

Mr Parameshwar and Ms Rajeshwari stand out, however, for having domesticated more than one hundred species of native forest trees in their orchards and farms, including four species of Garcinia and at least 55 varieties of mango (Mangifera indica), ten of which are locally important and threatened varieties. They manage over one thousand trees, among which there are 200 kokum trees (Garcinia indica), 30 uppage trees (Garcinia gummigutta), more than 500 jack fruit trees (Artocarpus heterophyllus) and 600 mango trees.

Identifying elite varieties of native fruit tree species in the wild and in their orchards, conserving them through grafting and other techniques in nurseries, sharing or exchanging these plant materials with fellow farmers—providing scions and grafting them free of charge—are all regular activities for these custodian farmers. Women’s and men’s roles in this process are well defined and complementary.

Gender-responsive research undertaken by Bioversity International gender fellows in Gonsar and surrounding villages has brought to light the gender-specific knowledge, skills, management and conservation practices related to native fruit trees. Women’s specialized knowledge of these species for domestic use and home gardening, as illustrated above, as well as men’s knowledge of native fruit tree silviculture came to the fore in gender and age-segregated focus groups.

Rajeshwari states that, “Men assist us in collecting the fruits [in orchards or in the wild] at the stage of mature or immature fruiting. However, processing, preserving, making of the recipes, serving them to the family and relatives, friends or even during special occasions is done entirely by myself and other female members of our family”.

“We [women] do not have much of a role to play in raising the plants, purchasing mango plants or cultivating them. What we do is assist men in watering, sometimes weeding, and driving away the monkeys that come to eat the mango fruits when men are engaged in other agriculture activities in different locations. We do not help other farmers graft special varieties of mango; however we do exchange the fruits with other women from neighbouring households in the village.”

Using a combination of participatory methods that promote collective learning, such as resource mapping, activity calendars and four cell analysis (a rapid assessment technique that maps out fruit tree diversity in the home gardens and orchards), women and men shared their knowledge about the current status of various native fruit trees. Many of these tree species and varieties are threatened and need to be managed sustainably in the forest and on cultivated lands.

The research demonstrates that traditional gendered knowledge of these species plays a crucial role in the conservation of the 25 native fruit tree species and of the numerous varieties of wild mango present in the study area. Hence, efforts to conserve these species must build upon these rich and diversified sets of knowledge and experiences.

Value addition and marketing of some of these species, based on women’s traditional fruit processing knowledge, are now being supported to provide livelihood benefits and additional incentives for conservation.

Blog post by Narasimha Hegde, Bioversity International Gender Research Fellow, and LIFE Trust Project Director, India.

Bioversity’s Gender Research Fellowship Programme is funded by the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry.

Photo: Young Indian woman processing Garcinia indica. Credit: Bioversity International/N.Hegde.

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