Call edition 2012

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The social and economic importance of the baobab (Adansonia digitata L.) and a study of its ecological, morphological, genetic, and biochemical variability in Benin

Achille Ephrem ASSOGBADJO researcher nominated

°1974 Benin
Agricultural Engineer, Development and Management of Natural Resources, University of Abomey-Calavi, Benin, 2000

Importance socio-économique et étude de la variabilité écologique, morphologique, génétique et biochimique du baobab (Adansonia digitata L.) au Bénin

This doctoral thesis fits into the overall framework of the conservation and sustainable management of Africa’s multipurpose woody species. The study is an analysis of the productivity and morphological, ecological, genetic, and biochemical variability of one of the woody resources found in Benin: the African baobab (Adansonia digitata), an idolized, sacred tree whose roots, bark, flowers, fruit pulp, seeds, and leaves are used by the native population. The baobab has many nutritional and therapeutic uses, and is an integral part of traditional agroforestry systems. Baobab products are sold regionally, thus providing income for the local population. The morphological features and biological behavior of the species vary with the tree population and its distribution in Benin’s different climatic zones, thus making it possible to establish correlations between environmental parameters and some botanical, physiological, and agricultural features of the baobab. Genetic studies, based primarily on molecular characteristics, show pools of genes grouped according to the region of origin, although variations are greatest within a same group rather than between different tree populations. Some morphological features such as the height of the tree and the number of branches are correlated with the genetic diversity of the individuals examined. The biochemical composition of the tree’s organs does not depend on the area in which it grows. Conversely, the physicochemical soil characteristics may significantly affect the mineral, vitamin, carbohydrate, protein and fat content of leaves, pulp and seeds. Proper germination requires that seeds be kept less than three months and be scarified before sowing.
The results of this study form a most useful contribution to the domestication of this woody species and to maintenance of its diversity in its natural environment as well as to the development of new methods of baobab management within traditional agroforestry systems in savanna regions. This research will also help to derive fuller benefits from this species’ many properties, thanks to the ethnobotanical information collected from rural communities.
This study may serve as a model of an integrated approach to the management of a multipurpose plant resource, valid for other woody species present in the same habitat as the baobab, and may be extrapolated to other ecologically similar West African countries.

report: Prof. J.-P. Baudoin, Tropical Phytotechnology and Horticulture Unit, Gembloux Agro-Bio Tech, Université de Liège, Belgium