Ever tried an African pear? Or a bush mango? Or a tree tomato? Or, perhaps, a custard apple?
African pear, or butterfruit, is 48% oil and can be processed into a spread that can be used as a natural plant-based substitute for margarine.
Packed with a set of fatty acids, bush mango is rich in protein. Its seeds can be used to make cooking oil and chocolate-like treats; its skin can be used in cloth coloration.
Tree tomato, or tamarillo, tastes like a mix of passion fruit and sweet tomatoes. High in vitamins A, B6, C, E, iron, potassium and antioxidants, this fruit has many health benefits. And so does the custard apple, which tastes just like it sounds.
All of these species and many other “forgotten fruits” are in the NUS group, which stands for “neglected and underutilized species”. Originating from the tropical regions of the world, these species have been cultivated by the indigenous peoples for millennia. Very high in minerals, nutrients and vitamins, neglected and underutilized species can provide famine and malnutrition relief, because they have so much more to offer than more recognized and commonly used species.
Unlike oranges or apples, NUS species perform well under extreme weather conditions and adapt easily. Neglected species are insurance crops that will provide in difficult times, and apart from immediate effect on famine prevention, underutilized species are also donors of genes for future climate-proof plant breeding.
There is only one issue: They are not popular. People do not know about them and, hence, there is hardly any investment in their production systems. So, even though forgotten fruits are still abundant in the tropics and are consumed by the locals, they are likely to be wiped out because production systems for more recognized species are more developed. Seeds and knowledge about their cultivation are also more available. In the meantime, according to Prof. August Temu from the World Agroforestry Center (ICRAF), a Partner in GFAR, expanding cultivation and use of underutilized and neglected species will be an indispensable contribution to food security.
This blog is part of the SIANI-GFAR spotlight on forests and food.