Jennifer Chinyelu IKEABA-OBIASOR & Ikechi AGBUGBA
BAOBAB: AFRICAN TREE OF LIFE
Baobab plant is indigenous to Africa and is referred to as African tree of life due to its maximum health benefits. As the name implies, ‘Tree of Life African Baobab’ (Adansonia digitata), it is a common multifunctional plant and native of West Africa’s arid and semi-arid regions. The plant is regarded as a valuable plant, due to its remarkable specie, its size and lifespan which makes it viable for about a thousand years. Moreover, it thrives specially in multiple fused stems with space in-between the stems which are popularly referred to as false cavities. The tree has about 300 uses with its leaves rich in iron and can be eaten like spinach when boiled. On the other hand, the seeds can be roasted to produce coffee substitutes or further pressed to generate oil for cooking or even in cosmetic industry for beautification purposes. Importantly, from proximate analysis carried out, it indicates that the fruit pulp is six times stronger in Vitamin C than in oranges, making it an important nutritional complement in Africa, Europe and Northern America, especially in the USA, as well as in the Canadian markets.
ECONOMIC IMPORTANCE OF BAOBAB
Since its plethora of uses can be sourced from its fruits, seeds, leaves and flowers, some of its economic benefits touches on the provision of food, clothing, shelter, livestock fodder, medicinal compounds, raw materials employed in milk production, flavouring and binding agents, spice, protein, jam, juice, salad dressing, sauce, fermentation agent in beer, oils and feeds production.
HEALTH BENEFITS OF BAOBAB
- Source of Vitamin C
There are several medicinal benefits of Baobab, among them is their rich source of vitamin C, which contributes to the normal functioning of the immune system, healthy and glowing skin; energy source, as well as gut health. The human body cannot produce or store its own vitamin C, we need to make sure we get a good supply from the foods we eat daily. A single serving of Baobab powder (10g) provides about 33% of the daily vitamin C requirement (NRV). One of the key benefits of vitamin C is that it helps to keep our immune system strong, supporting our body’s defence against viruses, infections, diseases and other illnesses.
- Source of Fibre and Antioxidants
It has almost 50% fibre (two thirds soluble and one-third insoluble, making it a powerful prebiotic) and contains more antioxidants than any other whole fruit. It is a natural source of these nutrients, it is more bioavailable than manufactured multivitamin supplements, implying that our bodies can absorb the nutrients more easily, ensuring a greater uptake.
- Energy Release
Since Vitamin C contributes to normal energy release, which steadily and clearly sustains one for a longer period of time thereby reducing or preventing a sudden feeling of tiredness, fatigue and lethargy. It also builds support for normal energy-yielding metabolic activity which is vital for all functions and activities of the body, including physical activity and exercise (EFSA, 2012).
- Control of Blood Sugar
Baobab powder contains 34% soluble fibre, which helps in slowing down activities and release of sugar and spikes into the bloodstream. Soluble fibre could help in regulating blood glucose levels, improving blood cholesterol and further reducing visceral and body fat stored around the organs in the abdominal region. From the research and trial tests conducted by the Functional Food Centre of Oxford Brookes University, using Baobab Powder indicates that human participants who consumed milk containing baobab had a lower blood glucose response than those who had a control drink with no baobab. The researchers further found out that Boabab powder when added to white bread could slow down the release of sugar during digestion. As such, baobab is considered ideal for those following a low GI diet. It could also be beneficial for Type 2 Diabetes patients.
- Absorption of Iron
Over 30% of the world’s population are deficient in iron making it the commonest nutritional disorder (WHO, 2017). Many persons turn to various iron alternatives in increasing their intake. Iron promotes the production of haemoglobin and red blood cells ensuring proper oxygenation of body cells. Importantly, a known fact is that vitamin C is needed in helping the body absorb iron. It is pertinent to subscribe that pairing iron with vitamin C will increase its absorption. From a medical viewpoint, our bodies require two types of iron which are as follows: iron in fish and meat, as well as iron present in plant foods. In order words, one of the important ways in which absorption of both types of iron can be increased is by combining the consumption of iron and vitamin C. As baobab is a rich natural source of vitamin C, it is easily accessible to the body and is better absorbed than artificial supplements. As breakfast, nutritionists encourage meals consumption, where Baobab powder is added to Fonia Cereal to secure the balanced ratio of iron and Vitamin C.
- Digestive Health
Approximately, over 30% of the world’s population have at least one digestive symptom at any given time, despite the growing awareness of the role fibre plays in improving digestive health. Baobab powder is comprised of about 50% fibre and contains the two types that the body needs which are soluble and insoluble types. The soluble fibre dissolves in the water found in the digestive system and can help in minimizing the cholesterol level in the blood. On the other hand, insoluble fibre does not dissolve but passes through the gut thereby easily enabling other foods to move through the digestive system. It also helps in keeping the bowels healthy and free from digestive disorders.
- Prebiotic /Gut Health
Most persons are familiar with probiotics – good bacteria found in foods such as kimchi and yoghurt, and both have beneficial effects on the health, particularly the digestive system. However, very few are familiar with prebiotics which plays an equally important role in gut health. Prebiotics are indigestible dietary fibres, also known as soluble fibres, comprised of non-living organic matter. The soluble fibres of baobab fruit pulp are prebiotics: non-digestible food components that beneficially affect the host by selectively stimulating the growth and activity of beneficial microflora (Journal of Food Research, 2016). The University of Colorado Boulder suggested that prebiotics can improve sleep after a stressful event, suggesting that adding baobab into the diet can help in promoting a good night’s sleep. For best results, it is recommended that taking prebiotics with yoghurt sweetened a bit with date powder to keep our gut health in check.
- Radiant Skin
According to the Journal of Nutrition, Baobab has the highest antioxidant content of any fruit. Its powder has twice the antioxidants per gram of goji berries and more than blueberries and pomegranates combined. Baobab is packed with antioxidants and vitamin C which supports collagen formation thereby helping to keep the skin radiant and glowing, as well as preventing wrinkles.
- Helps in Pregnancy
It is generally advised that pregnant women should consume 85mg of vitamin C per day (a 10g serving of Baobab powder contains 26mg) as it helps the body in producing collagen. Collagen is a structural protein that is needed for your baby’s normal growth during pregnancy. It plays a vital role in structuring a baby’s body and supporting its developing organs. Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, helps your body fight infections and protects cells from damage – helping to keep you healthy. Another key role vitamin C plays during pregnancy is its ability in increasing the absorption of iron, a vitamin that most pregnant women are deficient in. Iron is needed to help our bodies produce red blood cells which carry oxygen around the body and to the baby.
- Alkaline Content
Baobab is considered to be one of the highest alkaline foods available as it has a PRAL (Potential Renal Acid Load) rating of (minus) -52. Eating highly alkaline foods helps to balance our body’s pH levels. The Journal of Environmental Health (2012) supports that alkaline-based foods could help defend our bodies from chronic diseases and ailments such as hypertension, arthritis and vitamin deficiency.
- Pre/Post Work-Out
Physical exercise increases oxidative damage to cells and muscle tissues and its importance in increasing vitamin C intake reduces its negative effects. This is supported by a study conducted by the University of North Carolina (2006) which confirms that participants taking doses of vitamin C before engaging in physical exercise for 4 days after reported less muscle soreness compared to their counterparts who took a placebo. Furthermore, another study by the University of Birmingham found that volunteers who took vitamin C exhibited 75% more post-exercise recovery than those who consumed vitamin E or a placebo.
HARVEST, PROCESSING AND SHELF LIFE
Baobab is the exceptional superfruit of Africa’s ‘Tree of Life.’ It is the only fruit in the world that dries naturally on the branch. Baking in the sun for 6 months, baobab is ready for harvest when coating transforms into a smoothened-brown, coconut-like shell, inside its hard casing. Oftentimes, a matchet is used in cracking open its shell with the pulp naturally dehydrated. We simply harvest and sieve to produce about 100% natural and organic superfood powder that is exceptionally nutrient-rich, providing a wide range of health benefits. Baobab has a natural shelf-life of about 3 years. There are no additives or preservatives added to our products (just 100% pure baobab fruit pulp powder). It also has a delicious sweet and tarts flavour.
ACHA (FONIO): NIGERIA’S SUPER ALKALINE ANCIENT FOOD
Indeed, the scenes of starvation and malnutrition have drawn global attention to Africa’s agricultural and environmental crisis.
Acha is perhaps the world’s fastest maturing cereal, producing grain just 6 or 8 weeks after they are planted. Acha is literally the story of a legend and belief by the Dogon people of Mali, that the entire universe was born out of a single Acha grain. Hence, the reason for its name-caption: ‘Seed of the Universe.’
In Nigeria, it is usually called “Acha.” It is important this way to the Dogon, a people of Mali. To them, the whole universe emerged from a Fonio seed—the smallest object in the Dogon experience—a sort of atomic cosmology. Acha, also known as Fundi, Fonio, hungry rice and Petit mil is a grass indigenous to West Africa, which grows in Nigeria, Mali, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Togo, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Guinea and other ECOWAS nations. Acha grows well in drought conditions and poor soils without the need for fertilizers. Acha, though neglected has thrived in Africa for 5000 years, and is probably the oldest African cereal lacking the support of the then authorities (non – African colonial authorities, missionaries and agro researchers). The local grain crop could not keep pace with the foreign cereals which were made for consumers with the use of processing mills. The ancient, miracle grains languished and remained principally as the food for the poor and rural areas due to the tedious and difficult nuances associated with the evolving ancient processing methods. From records, a breakthrough was recorded when Prof Sanoussi Diakite, an engineer and academic invented Acha or Fonio husking machine that removes the husks in seconds. A Rolex laureate winner 1996 Rolex Award Enterprise.
Acha can be classified into 2 main types as follows:
- Digitaria Iburua: This white grain has black or brown spikelets and grows in Western African region such as Nigeria, Togo and Benin.
- Digitaria exillis: This white grain is grown West African countries from Senegal to Chad, and to Nigeria.
In some West African countries, Acha holds socio-cultural significance. In Senegal, Burkina Faso, Mali and Togo, Acha is traditionally reserved for chiefs and royalty and also served during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan or at festivities and celebrations like weddings and baptismal ceremonies. Sentimentally and as records indicate, ‘ancient Egyptians used to serve Acha to the dead to keep them nourished in the afterlife.’ In some parts of Togo, Acha is used in preventing blood clotting after childbirth, as well as in stimulating milk production for nursing and breastfeeding mothers. In these times, when the world is yearning for more inclusiveness, diversity, health and well-being, Acha remains the answer to global food security. As its name implies ‘seed of the universe,’ it has become one of the most indigenous African foods to influence the developed worlds.
FONIO TASTE: ITS PRODUCTS AND USAGE
It is a fact that Fonio is an award-winning grain, with light, nutty but mild flavour, fluffy couscous-like texture and somewhat tasty. Though unpopular compared to other staple grains, we must reckon that it is already voted in the US as “the most popular ancient grain. Irrespective of its popularity and versatility in its usage, in the fast-food industry, it cooks for about 2-4 minutes and according to a popular saying in Africa which states thus: “Fonio never embarrasses the cook.”
Furthermore, Fonio is described as a delicious alternative to quinoa, couscous, polenta or rice. It can be stirred with fries, stews, sauce, vegan burgers, salads or as a side dish. It can be used to replace grains in any dish and also in making a delicious creamy porridge, as well as Fonio flour for baking gluten-free pancakes, cookies and bread.
HEALTH BENEFITS OF FONIO
Fonio is a highly nutritious Super-Grain that is packed with health benefits. Fonio is 100% natural, organic, gluten-free and vegan. It is suitable for coeliacs and those with gluten intolerance
- Low GI
Fonio is a good source of B vitamins, including thiamine, riboflavin, and niacin, which are necessary for the growth, development, and function of cells, as well as energy production. It is rich in iron and amino acids often deficient in today’s regular cereals. Its major source is Zinc, Vitamin B1 & B3 and Phosphorus
With the increase in gluten intolerance and celiac diseases in many countries of the world, Acha (Fonio) is the antidote or answer to them.
- Control of Diabetes
Acha has a very low glycemic index. It is absorbed into the body slowly and contains sulphur, chromium and amino acids which helps in the control of diabetes. Studies have also shown that consuming some quantities of Acha may control blood sugar.
- Prevention of Anaemia
Fonio has a high concentration of iron of about 7mg of 100g corresponding to 50% of daily requirements. It contains folic acid and other amino acids that are very beneficial for pregnant women
- Aids Weight loss
Fonio is high in fibre content can be useful when trying to lose weight,
- Agent of Detoxification
Fonio contains amino acids, especially methionine and cystine that help detoxify the liver to function properly. Early studies findings suggested that eating of Acha (Fonio) may help to prevent liver diseases.
- Enhances Healthy Hair and Nails
Methionine is known to be important for the body’s production of cartilage and it can also help strengthen the hair and nails.
- Energy Source
Fonio is a great source of energy, Fonio is not called a super grain for no reason, it is easily digestible, provides you with a slow release of energy that will last till the next meal.
- Enhances Strong Teeth and Bones
Fonio is a very good source of calcium, magnesium and phosphorus which help to build strong bones and teeth, makes it an ideal food for growing children, also food that may help stop bone diseases like Osteoporosis in the elderly.
- Aids Digestion
Fonio is very easy to digest given its high fibre content,
- Enhances Smooth and Healthy functioning of the Heart;
Whole grains are considered essential for a healthy heart and cardiovascular system. It is pertinent to note that Fonio contains more of heart-friendly vitamins and minerals than other grains.
INVALUABLE FOOD FOR THE FUTURE
Fonio was named a future food of the world by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Unilever’s Knorr brand in their joint 2019 “Future 50 Food” report. In fact, 75% of global food supplies come from only 12 crops and five animal species, despite the fact that there are more than 20,000 edible plants which are wheat, rice and maize.
Without further damaging the planet, protecting food diversity is vital if we are to feed a global population estimated to be 10 billion persons by the year 2050. Importantly, Fonio was named as one of 50 nutritious future foods we should all be eating more of to promote more inclusiveness, diversity and a sustainable global food system.
Social & Environmental Impact
Fonio is fast-growing, with some varieties producing grain within 6 and 8 weeks after planting. That it is drought-resistant and tolerant of poor soil conditions implies that it can grow where little else succeeds. It also provides a valuable source of income to small-scale farmers. It is a regenerative crop so it helps to restore degraded soils and reverse the effects of climate change.
Fonio has a crucial role to play in supporting global food security and income generation for the hard-working women in rural communities of Africa. Blendego Empire Fonio is grown and process by women small farmers in Northern Nigeria, these women are enterprising and very hard-working. It is an opportunity for Europe, US, Canada, Asia among other nations in partaking in this ancient miracle food of Africa for the purpose of enhancing the health and well-being of individuals.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
She is the founder/CEO at Blendego Empire formally Chiblenders Green since 2018 till date. She is a serial entrepreneur with experience in Non-Profit organizations, Politics, Project Management, Strategic Marketing, Sourcing, Negotiation, Strategic Communication, Project Development & Delivery. Regarding her academic experience, she trained as Business Studies specialist from the Stratford Academy of Business and Management UK, ATHE UK Level 5 Business Management and a Bachelor of Arts degree (Business Management) from HGTG University, Republic of Benin. At Blendego Empire, she utilizes plant-based natural food items as a source for good health and well-being. They have launched a pilot project of 35g Protein, Energy Ready to drink nutrient-dense meal through the process of fermentation for consumers especially the global markets leveraging the climate-smart and regenerative underutilized future-fit Superfoods of Africa such as Bambara nut, Fonio (Acha), Baobab and Moringa which could be complete and complementary foods. According to her, ‘’our creation is vegan, gluten-free, made with fermented Bambara milk as the base, which performs better on sustainability metrics than commonly used plant milk sources from Almond, Soya, Oat and Peas. For inclusiveness, fair play, equity and diversity, Africans are open to sharing their experiences.’’ As a matter of fact, about (50%) of crops and their produce that thrives in Nigeria ends in landfills due to poor infrastructure resulting in food waste and that affects rural small-scale farmers mostly; and that could significantly limit their income status, leaving them vulnerable and impoverished. It also prevents food sources that could support the impoverished, especially in the rural areas. According to Jennifer, “an estimated number of 2 million persons in sub-Saharan Africa suffer from severe acute malnutrition and that is a wrong signal and health disaster. We achieve our goal by converting fresh produce into nutritious healthy powder with all its nutrients for longer shelve life. Our veggies and fruit powder become a new approach for formulating fortified foods because of new findings of their phytonutrient benefits. Truly, we have different plant-based products sold in shops, supermarkets and malls in Nigeria.” Her long-term goal touches on incorporating not less than a network of about 30,000 small-scale farmers, 200,000 retail shops and over 75 million consumers of her healthy products worldwide. “Our approach is indeed sustainable,” she retorts. Importantly, Blendego is affiliated to the African University of Science and Technology SME Hub at Abuja, Nigeria. Website: www.blendegoempire.com
He is an agricultural economist by training. He has been carrying out researches on food and agricultural marketing in sub-Sahara Africa (SSA), since 2003. He earned PhD in Agricultural Economics and has gained Postdoctoral Research Experience on a collaborative study between South Africa’s Agricultural Research Council (ARC) and the University of Fort Hare, Alice Campus. Currently, he features as a senior academic/researcher playing mentoring roles to university students, African youths, teenagers, as well as engaging with international networking volunteer organizations across Africa and outside, as either senior advisor or director in championing Africa’s transformation through the agriculture/agribusiness and education sectors. He is one of the Advocates of the European Technology Chamber (EUTECH) focusing on possible and easy solutions how to deploy business ideas, as well as relevant technology to targeted African communities. According to Dr Ikechi, “moves to industrialize the agriculture sector must be vastly encouraged especially in this era of the fourth industrial revolution (4IR).” To mention a few, Dr. Agbugba is an Advisory Board Member with the African Council for Trade, Tourism & Investment (AfCoTTI); Director, Research & Development/International Coordinator for Africa Agriculture Agenda (AAA); Senior Advisor, African Youth Diaspora Organization (AYDO); Senior Adviser, Tomatoes and Orchard (Horticulture) Producers Association of Nigeria (TOPAN); Advisor, AgriEn (an agribusiness and agri energy initiative focused on accelerating development and delivery of innovative and sustainable interventions in food security, among other initiatives. Also, Dr Ikechi is the Technical Adviser to NutriCare, Malawi (an initiative developing strong farmers’ links and networks with the agriculture sectorin specific regions thereby identifying farmer/farming needs, as well as building networks, partnerships and relevant opportunities in line with the vision of actualizing food and nutrition secure communities through empowering women to increase the availability of affordable nutritious foods.\ Dr Ikechi is a Faculty Member in the agribusiness management program of Rome Business School, as well as a Senior Academic/Researcher, Department of Agricultural & Applied Economics, Rivers State University (RSU). Moreover, he is a selected academia/researcher stakeholder in the Feed-the-Future initiative of the USAID Global Food Security Strategy Whole-System Workshop and has led plenary sessions on Food Security and Agribusiness especially at the International Food and Agribusiness Management Association (IFAMA) World Congress which held at St Paul Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA. Moreover, he is the recipient of the excellence award ‘Agro-Economist of the Year’ in the 2017 Conference of the Pan African Agricultural Journalists (PAAJ) at Ikeja, Lagos State, Nigeria.