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New publication describes ancient African tree Baobab

Descriptors for Baobab (Adansonia digitata L.)

Descriptor list of baobab will help to increase the domestication, cultivation and use of the products of the African baobab for improving nutrition and enhancing livelihoods

The baobab tree is an important, nutritious food source for local people in many African countries, and it has the potential to increase the incomes of local communities, particularly women. To assist in the process of domestication and popularization of this wild food tree, Bioversity International and the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) have developed the publication Descriptors for Baobab. Descriptors are a standardized international system that define the different characteristics of a species and allow scientists all over the world to accurately assess the genetic and morphological diversity in its genetic resources.

Descriptors for Baobab were developed as an output of the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health and the European Commission-funded ‘Fruiting Africa’ project. It is the product of exhaustive collaboration amongst 15 core scientists, with consultations from baobab experts worldwide.

“This descriptor list is the first, in the Descriptors Series, focusing on a neglected, undomesticated African food tree species with highly nutritious fruits and leaves,” said Katja Kehlenbeck, an ICRAF research scientist, who hopes that more descriptor lists will follow for the many other valuable African food tree species.

Baobab (Adansonia digitata L.) is an important multipurpose food tree of the semi-arid and sub-humid zones of sub-Saharan Africa, including countries in western Africa (e.g. Senegal, Mali, Niger, Benin), southern Africa (e.g. Namibia, South Africa, Mozambique, Zambia, Malawi) and eastern Africa (e.g. Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania).

The remarkable, long-lived baobab tree has a short, swollen trunk, wide-spreading branches and a large, round canopy. Almost all parts of the baobab are useful for human beings, with fruits and leaves being the most important for food and nutrition security of local communities

The naturally dry, whitish fruit pulp has five times the vitamin C concentration of an orange, and is high in minerals such as calcium, magnesium and iron. It can be eaten fresh or processed into porridge, juice, jam, ice cream and sweets. The seeds are rich in protein and fat and can be roasted and eaten as a tasty snack or pressed into oil for consumption and industrial use, particularly for cosmetic products. The leaves have high protein, beta-carotene and iron content and are used fresh as leafy vegetables or dried and powdered as a soup ingredient.

The production of baobab pulp and leaves is almost entirely based on trees growing naturally in forests and woodlands or in farmers’ fields. As in other undomesticated tree species, there is a high variability among wild baobab trees in valuable characteristics such as the number and size of fruits, proportion of pulp from the whole fruit, taste of pulp and nutrient content of pulp, seeds and leaves. This descriptor list will help in the domestication and cultivation of the species that is necessary to sustainably develop baobab value chains and meet the growing demand from local and international customers for high-quality baobab products.

Bioversity International has been the major driver in promoting the descriptor system and has developed and published over 100 descriptor lists since 1975. Adriana Alercia, who has been running the series for many years said, “We expect this list to support studies focusing on documenting characterization and evaluation traits and conserving baobab genetic resources, selecting superior mother trees for domestication and cultivation and, mainly, increasing production and use of nutritious baobab products.”

Download Descriptors for Baobab