We were told a few years ago by Australian, Arnse Sorenson, that we were wasting our time on trying out every variety of tree we could get our hands on to check out its growing needs, goodness, etc. He told us that the really good fruit species were well-known and that we should start concentrating on those species right away. At the time we disagreed, because we felt there were probably several exceptional fruits out there somewhere waiting to be discovered. And we still feel there are discoveries to be made, but in a practical sense, he was right. Whereas there are thousands of species out there, few of them have been developed into exceptionally good steady bearers producing fruit of wide-ranging acceptance. So, when doing a fruit tree introduction program, such as what we have been doing, it is important to learn as much as one can about the winners first, then start working backwards from there.
Unfortunately, not all winners are on equal footing everywhere, so, what ends up being the top ten fruits for a given area depends on climate and cultural factors. We now have several hundred species of fruits, nuts and other useful trees/vines and have planted them out in various locations ranging from a single tree in someone's yard to several acres in an orchard. Some species have little potential to help the people here as they take too long to come into production or the fruit is not of good quality (i.e. highly acidic or of poor taste). Artocarpus lakoocha and Burdekin plum are two examples of introduced fruits of low merit. Perhaps they mature differently in other parts of the world or maybe there are improved cultivars that we have not tried yet.
However, we have hit upon several really good winners for this area and the top vote getter, as far as the local people are concerned, is the canistel, simply because it is seen as good food. Its taste is similar to the sweet potato that is widely-grown and eaten here. Rollinia is a close second as it is a large fruit with a lot of edible flesh. Meanwhile, fruit trees that were introduced to the area long before we arrived on the scene, like mountain soursops and breadnuts, people are not buying from the nursery. Thirdly, jakfruit is becoming more and more popular, even though not everyone appreciates it. Those that do, can't get enough of it. More jakfruit trees have been planted than any other tree and many come into production in less than two years! Because they are seedlings, there is enough variation in fruit taste, consistency, latex content, etc. to find one that will please almost everyone.
A difficult problem we face here is thievery. These fruits are so popular that most of the fruit gets stolen off the trees before they are ripe. Trees in sacks get stolen out of the nursery and we are getting reports from everywhere that when villagers plant trees in their yards, the trees are dug up in the night and taken to who-knows-where. Then finally, the Abiu is coming on strong as a popular fruit because the variety we are using has a short 2-year bearing age and produces large quantities of delicious fruit. Other fruit trees that the people continue to buy from the nursery include those that existed in the area before we started the AF program. These include ambarella (Spondias cytherea), breadfruit, coconut, various citrus fruits, avocado, and of course, the national fruit, the mango. Of the last three trees mentioned, we are in the process of introducing improved varieties and it is the grafted trees that we are making good sales on. Of the native Zairian fruit trees, only one has been developed extensively and that is the Safu or Dacryodes edulis. There are quite a few cultivars of this species that are much larger and less sour than the wild ones and we have found that they come nearly true to seed. We cannot keep this tree stocked in our nursery for very long because of the great demand.
The exciting part of this program is the fact that there remains the potential to always find a better cultivar or species, no matter what tree type we are talking about. That search continues for more great tasting fruit to add to the fruit bowl on the dining room table. On our end, we hope to find the mother tree that produced the seedless Junglesop (Anonidium mannii), the unsour and cling-free ETA (Landolphia spp.), and a sweet cucumber-size Safu. We are hoping, too, that someday, we will be able to get another vine of the beli-beli plant and that our Dolea trees start producing, so that these may be available for distribution. On your end, please continue your search for improved varieties of mango, drought-resistant durian, citrus, bananas, etc., for truly, as Arnse put it earlier, it is the best of the best that people want to plant and eat. And as we continue to exchange the best from both worlds, it is certain that more and more people are going to be interested in planting fruit trees. This is important in Zaire where there is great need to reduce hunger, malnutrition, the dependency on slash-and-burn agriculture, and the supposed high incidence of male hernia operations!
FIRST FRUITS: Durian! Durian! Durian! Yes, in August 1994, we consumed with much enthusiasm, our first durian fruit. It was hand-pollinated by Paul in April and fell from the tree in four months. It's a D. zibethinus seedling that came either from Sri Lanka or from Voon Boon in Kuching (Malaysia). It smelled like 30-day-old dirty diapers, but the fruit was so good, it was difficult to have to share it with people that had not tried it before. Other fruit trees that have come into production for the first time are:
Blood Orange var. Kara Kara
Annona reticulata var. Mona Lisa
Happy Harvesting for 1995!
DATE: March 1995
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