2. Namibia: Farmers experiment with growing wild marama beans (IPS, Lost Crops of Africa)

| April 12, 2010

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The soil on Obed Kamburona’s farm is dry and sandy. He has tried to grow many crops. But he’s never had any luck. So he decided his soil isn’t suitable for planting. Instead, he raises cattle and goats.

Namibia is one of the driest countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Farmers like Mr. Kamburona must cope with poor soil and limited water. However, there is a plant that flourishes in these conditions. It’s called marama. Marama grows wild in Namibia, Botswana, and South Africa. It produces highly nutritious beans and tubers.

People harvest wild marama, but it has never been domesticated. Until recently. Researchers at the University of Namibia want to show that marama is a viable crop. They recruited a small number of farmers to try it. Mr. Kamburona was one of the first to sign up. Farmers like him planted small, experimental plots.

Dr. Percy Chimwamurombe is lead researcher on the marama domestication project. He says crop diversification is urgently needed to help farmers cope with climate change. Marama may be vital to Namibia as deserts expand. It thrives in very sandy areas with little rainfall.

Dr. Chimwamurombe says the project aims to show that marama can be cultivated, harvested, and sold. He believes in the potential of marama to generate income for farmers. Its beans are high in protein and its tubers high in starch.

Parts of the marama plant are enjoyed in many Namibian dishes. The beans are often roasted, taking on a flavour similar to cashews. The roasted beans can be cooked with cornmeal or ground up for porridge. The beans can also be pressed for good quality oil.

The tubers are just as useful. They are bigger and more nutritious than potatoes, yams, or sugar beets.

Researchers will study the growth of marama on experimental plots. They will identify marama plants that are well suited for domestication. Finally, they will breed marama for cultivation.

Mr. Kamburona is very optimistic about the project. He hopes that domesticating marama will change his fortunes and the future of his farm.