FAO commissions study on indigenous plants

The Food and Agriculture Organization is to produce an inventory of Top Ten underutilized plants with commercial potential for smallholder production. Bio-Innovation Zimbabwe, an innovation hub acting to develop new business opportunities using indigenous plants, was recently commissioned to produce the report.

Baobab fruit powder contains more calcium per mg than milk, more antioxidants than Goji berry.
Baobab fruit powder contains more calcium per mg than milk, more antioxidants than Goji berry.

Gus Le Breton, BIZ Chief Executive Officer, says the study will focus on plants that can be used for medicines, food, bio-fuel, cosmetics, herbal teas, dyes, construction, gums, resins and essential oils.

“As we begin rebuilding Zimbabwe’s agricultural sector, we have the opportunity to position ourselves strategically in the global market as the first choice suppliers of an array of unusual African natural ingredients and products,” said Le Breton.

“We need to play to our strengths, and our biodiversity is one of them. The biggest obstacle to developing this potential is our own mindsets – perceptions that there’s no market for them, or that they are second-rate because they’re ‘traditional’ and therefore not modern, or simply ignorance on the part of consumers and/or policy-makers.”

‘Uniquely positioned to develop global market’

In terms of domestic consumers and policy-makers (both of whom are now actively considering the implications of the “Proudly Zimbabwean” commercial drive) and in terms of the international market (with its focus on natural, on Africa and on ethical trade), the time has never been better, he added.

Key points include short lead-time for commercialization, ease of domestication/cultivation, suitability for marginal dry-land areas, building on existing, abundance of geographic spread, existing markets and multiple marketing opportunities including availability of skills.

Among the 250 useful plants already identified are: Baobab Mauyu), pig weed (Mowa), prickly cucumber (Magaka), finger millet (zviyo,) Makoni tea (musvisvinwa), Mobola Plum, (hacha/chakata), Marula (mapfura), groundnuts (Nyimo) and Pepper bark (muranga).

But Le Breton says the potential of these species will not be realized unaided and there is need to identify the unique selling points of each and facilitate concentrated investment in product development, trial marketing, consumer awareness and production and yield trials.

Many foreign countries have capitalized on indigenous plant species such as Kiwi fruit – New Zealand, Macadamia nut – Australia, Acai – Brazil, Argan oil – Morocco, Shea Butter – Burkina Faso and Rooibos – South Africa.

Post published in: Environment
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