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Best Practices on Indigenous Knowledge MOST/CIRAN


Sustainable domestication of indigenous fruit trees: the interaction between soil and biotic resources in some drylands of southern Africa.


The indigenous background is that the local population harvests fruits from local trees in the veld, and subsequently plants new fruit trees around the villages. The fruits under consideration are vitamin-rich and the trees are able to produce even in years of drought. The products of the veld provide an additional income when the traditional crops fail due to poor weather. The practice aims to actually domesticate the wild trees. We do so by looking for the best phenotypes, finding the optimal conditions for the germination of seeds, checking the best conditions for seedling survival and so on. We can then link the tree-dependent success factors with the abiotic factors such as soil conditions.

The practice develops in two steps and takes advantage of local knowledge:

  1. Knowledge of the optimal conditions for growth and production of fruit trees in the wild (seven species). This implies knowledge of biotic factors related to each tree type (e.g. phenotype, physiological needs), knowledge of the interaction between the tree and other organisms (e.g. mycorrhizae), and knowledge of abiotic factors such as soil conditions.
  2. Assessment of suitable agronomic practices that may help in the domestication of the trees, such as treatments to improve the success of germination, water-harvesting techniques, etc. Particular attention is paid to the sustainability of the domestication. For example, we evaluate agronomic practices that may already be used in some areas, so we do not radically change local habits. We feel that domestication should take advantage of natural resources without changing them.

Botswana; Namibia
Region: Namibia: Kavango and Ovamboland


  • Use of indigenous tree species. The use of tree species that are already appreciated by the local population avoids the introduction of exogenous species that are less adapted to harsh conditions, and minimises production failures.
  • Use of indigenous knowledge. The local populations know which trees are the best trees for production, both quantitatively and qualitatively (sweetness of fruit). We base our search for superior phenotypes on this indigenous knowledge.
  • ECONOMIC SUSTAINABILITY is achieved by providing additional income and a potentially new source of income for some of the fruits.
  • ENVIRONMENTAL SUSTAINABILITY is achieved by making better use of natural resources and native trees to decrease soil degradation and desertification.
  • OTHER: The practice increases the vitamin content of the local diet, which is otherwise poor in vitamins.

The initiators are four university research groups, from Italy, Germany, Namibia and Israel, and a non-profit organization from Botswana. Researchers, graduate and post-graduate students and technicians carry out the project. Some parts of the practice involve local people who are interviewed about their knowledge on which trees might be the best to use. The stakeholder is the European Community and the users will be mainly technicians and extension services.

The final beneficiaries are the local populations. The extension services, which are active in both countries, will be needed to communicate the results.

There are no sex or age differences among the participants involved.

The university research teams all work on different research topics (Soil Science, Plant Science, Mycology, and Agriculture), which complement each other. The Botswana team has already worked for several years in the diffusion of indigenous trees among rural communities and in field trials involving local populations (especially women’s groups and school pupils). They all shared their different experiences, and what they thought was necessary to achieve a good result. The project is structured within the IV framework of the EC (INCO projects).



The project has several steps, all aimed at finding the best use of natural resources. For instance, the first step is to gather knowledge of the natural conditions. These conditions are then evaluated in terms of how they can be modified by man. This approach can be adapted and applied to any new problem. The best practice is multidisciplinary, meaning several aspects can be considered at the same time.


The main weakness is that it involves a great amount of scientific knowledge from different fields, especially in the beginning. It therefore depends largely on cooperation between research institutions.


This practice can be carried out in other locations and regions with very few or no adaptations.

There are a few restrictions:

  • The results are valid only for the trees considered and cannot be transferred to other species.
  • Tree species that are used in this practice include Sclerocarya birrea (local name: morula in Botswana, marula in Namibia); Azanza garckeana (local name morojwa);Strychnos spinosa (local name morutlwa); Strychnos cocculoides (mogorogorwane); Schinziophyton rautanenii (mongongo in Botswana, manketti in Namibia); Vangueria infausta (mmilo) and Grewia flava (moretlwa).
  • Some of the trees are used for their fruit, while others are used for more indirect purposes, such as the seeds being used for fat production.
This project has not yet been replicated in other locations.


In Botswana, with the help of the local people, we found a Sclerocarya birrea (morula) tree in the area of Mochudi: it produces very sweet fruits (more than 1 pH unit more than usual); very large fruits (approx. 70 g vs. 50 g of normal weight); and has a high yield. The seeds were collected and trials about germination, survival of seedlings, etc., are currently underway. The soil in that area has been collected and analysed. The data obtained, together with those of other sites, were used to determine the soil conditions that may best fit the tree requirements.

From 1996 to 1999

640,000.00 (= 213,333.33 p/year)


Eleonora Bonifacio
Universita’ di Torino (see below)
E-mail: eleonora.bonifacio@agraria.unito.it

Ermanno Zanini
Universita di Torino (see below)
E-mail: zanini@agraria.unito.it


Organization that provided this information:

Universita’ di Torino
DIVAPRA - Chimica Agraria
I-10095 Grugliasco (TO)
Telephone: +39-011-6708518
Fax: +39-011-4031819

Cooperating Organizations:

Veld Products Research and Development
P.O. Box 2020
Telephone: 267-305522
Fax: 267-305522

University of Namibia
Department of Biology
Telephone: 264-61-2063744
Fax: 264-61-2063791

Ben-Gurion University
Institute for applied research
84105 Beer-Sheva

University of Goettingen
Institut fuer Forstbotanik

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