3 November 2013

East Africa: Bungo, an Ecologically Appropriate Crop for East Africa

I AM drinking a glass of bright orange yellow juice with a faint fluorescent green glow; I made it out of mabungo fruits from my garden.

The juice is a delicious refreshing drink rich in Vitamin C. It makes me feel sharp and fresh. People always say thank you for a glass of bungo juice. Even sometimes putting their hand to their heart as they return the glass. Or comment, "Hii ni faida! Bustani ni faida!"

This is profit. It is true; each fruit sells for about TZS.600 ($0.40) in the market. In an important book called "Lost Crops of Africa" it is stated that most of Africa's edible native fruits are wild. "Lost Crops of Africa" includes 1000 different species and the authors admit that their assessment is probably incomplete.

Mbungo, Saba comorensis is considered one of the "lost crops" although in Tanzania it is known, but not common commercially. The vine itself is thick and brown; the leaves are oval shaped, about 15 cm long, dark green and sturdy.

The flowers are white, plentiful, and sweet smelling. The fruits are round and green, orange when ripe; they can reach ten centimeters across. If you peel off the skin, inside you will find a ball of about 10 black-brown seeds, each surrounded by mango colored pulp.

The juice and fibers are in this pulp. My neighbour had the first mbungo vine I ever saw, growing in her garden. She grew it from the seeds of a big fruit she brought from Zanzibar.

A man there had told her mbungo can be found in the forest; they like "to travel", he said, meaning the vine climbs and stretches out over a long distance.

In her garden it climbed a guava tree and then because it had nowhere else to go, it grew over itself up and up in layers, until the tree died from lack of light and completely collapsed under the weight of the vine. Sometimes my neighbour would give me fruits from which I would make juice.

To take the pulp off the seeds I put them in the blender with water. My plants sprouted from seeds broken by the blender that had been thrown onto the mulch pile. The plants grew into heavy vines that spread and searched for a place to climb.

Even when small, the vine brought down two banana plants, then a papaya tree. We placed a metal rebar frame nearby and trained the vine to climb over it. It did, and then it climbed over the wall and headed for another guava tree and started to climb the mvule.

I did not want it to climb the mvule, (since the fruits do not drop on their own but have to be picked), so we have guided it to grow along the top of the wall. It is strong and active, as if alert and conscious - heading towards my neighbours in both directions!

My mbungo has been growing about 4 years. It produced a few fruits after two years. This year the plant has been flowering steadily for months. The green ball like fruits have been forming, and now the first ones are ripening.

My household has had a steady stream of fruits for about six weeks; this bounty looks to continue for several months as many other fruits are ripening. On the street side of the wall, the students who pass by on their way home from school are watching and commenting on their development.

The birds love the vines. The cool and shade underneath is wonderful for them on a sunny day. They can fly and hop about in the dappled light, amongst the branches without attracting the notice of crows. There are at least two ways of using the fruits, fresh or as juice.

Juice: Peel the outer rind off a ripe fruit. Put the pulp covered seeds into a blender with clean water. Turn on the blender for about 30 seconds. Pour off the resulting juice, and throw away the seeds (which by now have very little pulp on them).

Return the juice to the blender. Add sugar to taste. Add enough clean water so the mixture can be blended to the desired consistency. Mango, papaya, orange, and passion fruits can also be added.

A website called www.chaiandqahwa.com explains that the best way to enjoy bungo is to remove it from its shell, mix the fleshy seeds with some salt (to cut the sourness), sugar, salt and red chilly powder. Mix it well.

Dip your fingers. Enjoy. If you want to plant a bungo vine, and you don't know how to get one, contact me at naturenotestz@ yahoo.com and I will put you in touch with my neighbour who can help you.

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