Burkina Faso: Farmers sell, eat, and treat ailments with neglected plants

May 07, 2018
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Stationed at a crossroads at the entrance to Tenkodogo city, Ouindiga Edwige sells muguna (jackalberry) and kieglga fruits (from the bito tree), while Oubda Félicité sells kieglga leaves and bissap (hibiscus juice).

The two women travel every morning from Toudoumzougou, a village five kilometres from Tenkodogo, to sell their produce. Most of the plants they sell are wild or neglected. People ate them and used them as medicine for generations, but more recently have neglected them, and consider them old-fashioned and without value. But now farmers, vendors, and consumers are starting to appreciate their worth.

For these two women, wild and neglected plants are a source of income as well as nutrition for their families.

Mrs. Ouindiga says: “Selling neglected wild plants is an activity that I take part in regularly, but the fruits vary depending on the season. For example, [in February] the muguna, kieglga, and toedo [baobab fruit] start to come. In March and April, it’s the roanga fruits [locust beans]. Most of the fruits of the wild plants that I sell are available in April and May, such as roanga, sabga [African grapes], and a bit later, taama [shea fruit].”

Mrs. Oubda says, “The fresh kieglga leaves sell well and they are used to prepare couscous—and it’s very good. The only downside is that they aren’t available all year long.”

Certain products are more lucrative than others. Mrs. Ouindiga says: “I was selling taama and rondo at the beginning of the rainy season, but I realized that the taama nuts and roanga seeds are more profitable. For example, a tin of taama sells for 300 FCFA, whereas we earn 700 FCFA selling the same quantity of nuts. A tin of rondo sells for 150 FCFA and the seeds for 1,150 FCFA.” However, a farmer needs a larger field and more time to harvest nuts or seeds rather than fruits.

Also, the products are worth more when they are processed into products such as shea butter and sumbala, a fermented spice.

Mrs. Ouindiga and Mrs. Oubda are members of a group of men and women farmers in Toudoumzougou called Naboswende (or “We will ask God” in the Mooré language). Among other things, the group aims to save, collect, and replant neglected edible plant species.

Mrs. Ouindiga says: “Most of the edible plants we sell are wild plants that are found in the village, in our fields…. For certain other species, we have the seeds and we grow them in our fields.”

Moussa Minougou is in his 40s and a member of the group. Climbing down from a roanga tree in his field, he says: “Some people destroyed their taanga, roanga, and many other wild plants with brush fires or overharvesting the wood, and now they want to exploit the benefits of [these] plants. We lead activities to increase interest in these plants for us and for future generations.”

In addition to fighting poverty through generating income, the products derived from these plants strengthen food security by contributing to a balanced diet in rural areas.
Mr. Minougou says, “We eat as much as we sell [of] these neglected wild plants.”

Mrs. Ouindiga also enjoys eating them. She adds: “Personally, what I like the most is the couscous with arzantiga [moringa] leaves. Arzantiga leaves sell very well at the market, but we don’t grow enough to sell. My meal is often accompanied by a drink of toedo or bissap juice and often some fruit like grapes or shea.”

The rural people who use these plants are well aware of their medicinal qualities.

Mr. Minougou says that taanga can be used to treat malaria, barkoudga [custard apple] for snake bites and hemorrhoids, kieglga for stomach aches and ulcers, zamnega [Acacia macrostachya] for hypertension, aandga [black plum] for stomach aches in children, palpitations, and acid reflux, and toèga [baobab] for treating children.

Minougou S. David manages the Naboswende group’s seed storage facility. By preserving and sharing the seeds, the group hopes to make it easier for local farmers to grow and eat these plants.

Mr. David says: “To encourage proper harvesting, storage, and processing methods for neglected edible plants and the revival of certain species, our group uses a gene and seed bank.” They store the seeds of several types of vegetables there, including bulvaka, nato, berenga, vogre, and maan yanga.

But, he adds, rural people need training on how to plant and maintain some types of plants.

For the members of the Naboswende group, these seeds—and the knowledge needed to grow and use them—are essential to their livelihoods and their families’ health.

This story was prepared with the support of The McLean Foundation. FRI would also like to thank USC and its local partner, APN-Sahel, for its support in preparing this story.