Potential of Australian Acacias in combating hunger in semi-arid lands
Anthony Rinaudot1, Prakash Patel2 and Lex A.J. Thomson3
(1) World Vision, 1 Vision Drive, East Burwood, Victoria 3151
(2) Project Ecolake, World Union, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry, 605002, India
(3) CSIRO Forestry and Forest Products, PO Box E4008, Kingston, Australian Capital Territory 2614
People living in semi-arid regions of the developing, tropical world who are reliant on annual crops and/or pastures (for livestock) for food are particularly vulnerable to hunger and periodic famine.
A number of species of edible-seeded Australian acacias thrive under adverse conditions; conditions under which annual plants barely survive. These include A. colei, A. coriacea sens. lat. (including A. sericophylla), A. elachantha, A. torulosa, A. tumida and A. victoriae. The seeds of these species are tasty, safe to consume as a moderate component of human diets and nutritious, being high in protein, carbohydrates and fats. In many regions, such as semi-arid tropical west Africa, the seeds ripen at a time of low labour demand when non-irrigated crops are not being cultivated. Being perennial and thus having an established root system, mature acacias can take advantage of rains that would be ineffective for annual crops (e.g. out of season or poorly distributed rains). Acacia seeds are easily harvested and processed into flour using simple, existing local technologies. The flour can be incorporated into local dishes and in 'non traditional' foods such as spaghetti, bread and biscuits. The seed also has great potential as feed for livestock. Being hard-coated, seeds can be stored for many years as a reserve for famine. Acacias can also supply various other products, especially fuelwood, and services such as improvement of soil fertility through fixation of atmospheric nitrogen.
This paper reviews current knowledge and trials and the use of edible acacias in Africa and India. Certain Australian species have a vast potential as new food crops, worthy of larger scale promotion, particularly in semi-arid regions of the world.