Home > Agriculture, Industry > Allanblackia, a Boost to the Cosmetic Industry

Allanblackia, a Boost to the Cosmetic Industry

A worker at FORIG holding allanblackia fruits

Can you imagine a tree bearing fruits with each fruit weighing about 40 kilograms, the average weight of 10 newborn babies? Allanblackia, parviflora, a tropical tree growing in the forests of Ghana which has recently caught the attention of scientists bears about 120 of such fruits each year, equivalent to the weight of 1,200 new born babies!

Gigantic Allanblackia Fruits

However, scientists’ interest in the tree was not inspired by the exceptional weight of its fruits but the fact that the oil-rich seeds contained within its gigantic fruits could be the answer to attempts by the cosmetic industry to find a replacement for palm oil in the production of cosmetics.
Uniliver Ghana, a company that produces cosmetics, soaps, detergents and processed foods is one of the ‘early birds’ ready to take advantage of the tree’s oil rich seeds. It is therefore funding research on the tree at the Forestry Research Institute of Ghana (FORIG) in conjunction with Novel Development Ghana.
Research into Allanblackia , a wild indigenous plant begun in 2003 when Uniliver Ghana approached the institute for information on the tree. However, the institute had very little information on the tree at that time because it had never been researched. Through interviews with farmers and hunters who were familiar with it, the institute gathered enough indigenous knowledge of the tree to serve as a basis for further research.
Further research carried out by FORIG revealed that the tree is dioecious, with male and female flowers on different trees. Thus only female trees can bear fruits. The institute has established that each female tree produces an average of 40 kilograms of seed which in turn can yield 12 kilograms of oil. Had the tree been monoecious, with both male and female flowers on one tree the present number of trees in the forest might have been enough to meet the needs of Uniliver Ghana.
This has necessitated the need to propagate the tree under domestic conditions to pave the way for the establishment of tree plantations to meet future demand. Seven years down the lane, FORIG has explored the most successful method for propagating the tree.
“Scarification, which involves the removal of the testa or seed coat remains the best method for speeding up the germination of Allanblackia seeds” says Theresa Peprah, of the Forest Wildlife Management and Governance Department of FORIG. Seeds with their seed coat intact need two years to germinate, but scarification reduces this period to seven months. Putting the seeds in polythene bags after scarification further reduces the germination period to four months.

Allanblackia seeds germinating under domestic conditions

The maturity period of Allanblackia is still unknown but some farmers claim it can take as long as 15 years to produce fruits. Trees that were planted by the institute six years ago are still far from maturity, creating the need to find alternative methods of propagation if the tree is going to be beneficial to industry.
The main method being used to speed up the maturing of the plant is vegetative propagation, namely wedge grafting. Cuttings of mature trees that are flowering and fruiting, known as the scion, are trimmed into a spear like shape and inserted into wedges that are cut within the seedlings of the tree, known as the root stock. The resulting joint is bandaged with a plastic strip which is smeared with Vaseline to prevent water and air from entering. Since the scion bears the characteristics of an adult plant, the grafted tree skips the years normally required for the trees development and reaches maturity much earlier.
The main challenge that FORIG foresees with grafting Allanblackia is whether the resulting trees that would be smaller that the parent plants can bear the weight of the fruits that would be borne. Grafted seedlings were made available to farmers last year to start the commercial cultivation of the tree. This move was welcomed by the farmers who were relieved to hear that they would not have to wait several years for it to fruit.
While waiting for their own plantations, farmers are already benefiting from the tree by collecting its fruits and selling it to middle men who in turn sell it to Uniliver Ghana. Thus, a supply chain involving collectors, processors, middlemen and a company which does the milling already exists. Two hundred communities are already involved in the collection and drying of Allanblackia seeds and they provide Uniliver Ghana with 150 tonnes of seeds each year which yields 50 tonnes of oil. However, this is far below Uniliver’s requirement of 2000 tonnes a year.
For this reason, Novella Africa, a private –public initiative which was set up with support by Uniliver and operational in Ghana is working in Tanzania, Cameroon, Nigeria and Liberia to set up supply chains and to cultivate the trees for commercial seed production.
In view of the high demand for Allanblackia seeds by industry, it is one area where successful scientific research can reduce rural poverty by providing farmers with a fast growing tree variety that can fetch them the cash that they desperately need.

The local names for the tree amongst communities where it is known include osono dokono, meaning ‘elephants kenkey’, probably because of the size and colour of the fruits which resemble huge balls of kenkey, a local diet in Ghana. Other names like kusieadwe, meaning ‘rat’s nuts’ and ‘apesedua’ meaning ‘porcupine tree’, refer to the giant rat and the brush tail porcupine respectively which feed on its fruits. The communities also expressed awareness of the tree’s oil rich seeds which they described as ‘very tasty when eaten hot’ since they process it into edible oil for cooking. It is also mixed with palm kernel oil to improve upon its quality to fetch a better price on the market.

  1. Cyril
    June 21, 2011 at 1:41 pm

    Bernice, it would have been nice to check your story before publishing on the net. There are a few inaccuracies in the text. All the same, thanks for spreading the word about Allanblackia to the world.

  2. June 21, 2011 at 4:15 pm

    Thanks for your comment, Cyril. This article was written based on information given to journalists at a Wren Media workshop on “Reporting on trees” in Kumasi. It will be nice to point out the inaccuracies so that corrections can be made to the article if necessary.

  1. January 2, 2011 at 11:57 am

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