A research approach supporting domestication of Baobab ( Adansonia digitataLinnédeL. ) in West Africa
The Baobab tree (Adansonia digitata L.) is a key multipurpose species for the African region. In the recent years there has been an extended commercial interest for different A. digitata products. As a spectacular African key species there has been a growing interest from NGO's and various research groups. A research group, focussing on the following countries Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, has participated in a concerted research action with cross counter disciplinary cooperation between plant physiology, population genetics, tree breeding, food science, and socioeconomics. This paper presents a review and the way knowledge gaps are being addressed using the above mentioned approach. The overall work was initiated in 20052006 when a large collection of A. digitata seeds was carried out in 15 African countries. Fourteen populations were selected in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger including more than 400 superior trees, and many of the trees have been selected along with farmers in a participatory process. Studies have been initiated in all countries on geographic variation of growth, adaptive and phenological traits. This includes studies in the nursery, establishment of international provenance series, seed orchards and studies of gene flow and phylogeographic variation with various markers. Specific nursery trials have been established in order to study provenance and progeny performance related to drought stress. Several stress related characteristics are being measured. Preliminary observations showed large morphological variation between African provenances of A. digitata. Food properties of plant parts have been studied within and between populations. This includes studies of total biomass production, vitamin A, B1, B2, and various minerals. The influence of stress will be related to these parameters. Fruits, which are rich in sugar and vitamin C, are used as an ingredient in juice and other foods. Seeds can be used directly as food ingredient or in fermented condition (Maari). The fermentation process was previously poorly described. Therefore, the microorganisms associated with Baobab seeds fermentation have been identified and a starter cultures for control production has been proposed. The efficiency of dissemination of superior A. digitata trees depends on vegetative propagation. Various grafting methods are currently being tested in cooperation with farmers. Micropropagation is tested as well as a method for clone propagation. The accumulated knowledge will be applied for a domestication strategy of A. digitata in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger. The outcome from this study will be guidelines for protection and management of the germplasm of A. digitata resources.