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A hard nut to crack

Extracted and dried, <em>njansang</em> stores well and fetches good prices on the market (© Amos Gyau and Aneh Mundi)
Extracted and dried, njansang stores well and fetches good prices on the market
© Amos Gyau and Aneh Mundi

Great cooks in Cameroon have a secret ingredient: a fine, pale-brown paste made by grinding the roasted kernels of the forest tree species Ricinodendrom heudelotti. A small amount of the paste, known locally as njansang, livens up the flavour of food and thickens soups, making it a valued commodity. Extracted and dried, njansang stores well and fetches good prices on the market. In 2006 a study found that four self-help groups in central Cameroon earned 2.8 million CFA (US$5,500) from the sale of 3,000kg of njansang.

Njansang's high price is related to the long, tedious and labour-intensive artisanal processes used to obtain the commodity from R. heudelotti fruits. This difficult processing procedure represents a major constraint in the value chain, creating a bottleneck to wider production and commercialisation of this valuable commodity.

Alternative techniques

To enable smallholder farmers to increase production of njansang, the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), in partnership with Berinyuy Women's Development Cooperative (BERWODEVCOOP), developed alternative techniques that dramatically cut the processing time from six to eight weeks to a mere eight hours.

With the new process, the fruit is boiled for an hour, soon after picking (© Amos Gyau and Aneh Mundi)
With the new process, the fruit is boiled for an hour, soon after picking
© Amos Gyau and Aneh Mundi

Artisanal processing traditionally involves collecting the fruit, piling it up and leaving it to decompose in the shade for four to eight weeks. Rotten fruit pulp is washed off to obtain the hard seeds, which are then put through a series of boiling processes that can take anything from eight to 48 hours. Finally, the cooked seeds are cracked open to obtain the njansang kernel, which can be dried and stored.

With the new process, the fruit is boiled for an hour, soon after picking. Boiling removes the fruit pulp, as well as the thick leathery lining around the seed coat. Then the nuts are dry-roasted until they fracture, to release the edible kernels. This entire process takes just eight hours, and at the same time reduces the health hazards associated with traditional processing. For instance, the decaying fruit produces a dark liquid that stains the hands of handlers. The decaying fruit is also frequently infested with maggots, which can get under the skin of processors.

Ground breaking

Around 100 njansang producers in Cameroon have adopted this new technology, allowing them to increase their involvement in processing and trade, and ICRAF has already helped them form into groups, linked them to markets and provided training on vegetative propagation techniques. ICRAF is also working on developing mechanical and manual cracking machines to further reduce the processing time in addition to exploring post-cracking processing methods including oil extraction. "The project has taken a value chain approach by incorporating production, processing and marketing activities," Dr Amos Gyau, a marketing Specialist at ICRAF explains.

Around 100 <em>njansang</em> producers in Cameroon have adopted this new technology (© Amos Gyau and Aneh Mundi)
Around 100 njansang producers in Cameroon have adopted this new technology
© Amos Gyau and Aneh Mundi

With less time and energy spent processing, families are able to spend more time gathering nuts and participating in other agricultural activities, such as the cocoa harvest which coincides with the njansang harvest. "This results in an increase in income and also gives the farmers more of an opportunity to diversify their sources of income, which is a good risk management strategy," says Aneh Mundi, a researcher at ICRAF.

Processors and farmers who have adopted the new technology are hailing it as ground breaking. "I can now collect and process my njansang on the same day, instead of waiting eight weeks to get the nuts ready for cracking," says Christina Nypie, a producer. "We should have known this long ago." Another producer, Victorine Ebamo, says that she will now "process a huge quantity of njansang for the market, and earlier in the season, when it will yield more income." On average, farmers have said that they have doubled the quantity of njansang they process.

A key challenge currently being faced, however, is to gain widespread adoption of the new innovation: communities have different methods for processing the fruit to extract the kernel, and need tailored approaches to foster the adoption of the new technology. Secondly, njansang has traditional and cultural significance, and for this reason many farmers have been reluctant to give up the traditional methods of processing, complaining that the new processing techniques have no cultural depth. Some farmers, meanwhile, are willing to embrace one part of the technology but not another; for instance, boiling the fruit to de-pulp it is far more culturally acceptable than dry-roasting the nuts.

Scaling up

"Whatever the advantages a new innovation brings, efforts aimed at scaling up adoption need to take such important social factors into account," says Gyau, and group leaders have welcomed the new technique, promoting it among their peers.

In recent years ICRAF has encouraged farmers to plant <em>R. heudelotti</em> trees in their farms (© Amos Gyau and Aneh Mundi)
In recent years ICRAF has encouraged farmers to plant R. heudelotti trees in their farms
© Amos Gyau and Aneh Mundi

Traditionally, njansang is collected from the wild but in recent years ICRAF has encouraged farmers to plant the trees in their farms. "There is an abundant supply of njansang on farms and from the wild," Mundi explains, "and more people are planting R. heudelotti trees with advice and guidance from ICRAF so there is no problem with farmers increasing production." ICRAF is providing training on propagation techniques, including grafting and rooting, which provides early fruiting trees, compared to those grown with seedlings. Njansang producers are also trained in marketing, including how to negotiate for better prices.

"Time-consuming, tedious or complex processing requirements for agroforestry tree products such as njansang can serve as a major barrier to their exploitation by smallholder producers," explains Dr Steven Franzel, leader of ICRAF's marketing and extension global research project. "It's therefore important for researchers and development practitioners to take a value chain approach when looking at potential economic benefits of non-tree forest products. Involving local communities in all stages of the experimental design and scaling-up efforts can enhance adoption."

Written by: Aneh Mundi, Amos Gyau and Maryben Chiatoh, ICRAF

Date published: September 2012

 

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