Do you know chitoumous ? Weda? Balanites ?

And have you ever had water lily cous-cous ?

For some time we have been seeing, at each Agricultural Fair or Food Day, one or two stalls showing ”non ligneous forest products”. The first time it made me smile. I found the expression ”non ligneous forest products” a somewhat pompous and complicated way to simply speak of wild fruit (leaves, flowers, nuts, berries from trees of the wild woodland)! I came to think of some of my friends among peasant women. I wondered what would be their reaction if I asked them: Did you know that you are economic operators specialised in the processing of non-ligneous forest products!

Promotion des Produits Forestiers Non ligneuxAu premier plan, For a long time – maybe from times immemorial – rural women have been making use of non-ligneous forest products. It started before the advent of agriculture, when people were gatherers. But even today the processing of fruit from trees in the wild remains an important economic activity, in particular for rural women.

The best known and most important in Burkina Faso is the use of fruits from the Shea tree, Karité. The fruit pulp is much appreciated and the grains inside the nuts are used for making butter, which is very often the major ingredient in cooking fat. The Burkinabè consume a large part of the shea butter production themselves. Nevertheless it ranges as the fourth most important export product (after gold, cotton and meat & dairy products). In 2007, an exceptionally good year, Burkina Faso exported shea grains for over 16.6 billion CFA francs and shea butter for nearly 700 million.

However, the Karité tree does not just produce nuts. In the West of Burkina, at the beginning of the dry season, women go out and shake the branches of the tree to recover thousands of larvae, chitoumous, which the gourmets of Burkina relish and which command sky rocketing prices. Fortunately it is when the tree has shed all its nuts that the larvae appear and devour all the leaves. They used to be a special treat reserved for the people of Bobo Dioulasso, but at present these caterpillars are popular with everybody … and the price is going up. Chitoumou vendors in Bobo make between 2 500 to 5 000 francs a day

…The Baobab tree is also very generous. Its fresh or dried leaves are used in sauce. Its fruit, sometimes called ”pain de singe”, monkey bread (because monkeys are ravenous for it) is rich in vitamin B1 and C and is also made into excellent syrup.

The fruit from the Nére tree is also much in demand. The seeds are used to make Soumbala, an aromatic ingredient in sauce.

Tamarind fruits are processed into juice or syrup. The leaves are used for making tô and sauce.

Some of the lianas produce fruits (called “weda” in Mooré) that are very tasty and can be used in syrup.

The red Kapok tree (or false Kapok, Bombax Costatum) reaches a height of between 5 and 15 metres. It blossoms during the dry season, before producing its leaves. The flower chalice is used for a widely appreciated sticky sauce. It must be noted that excessive harvesting of the flowers may cause problems for the survival of the species, since it interrupts the formation of the seeds.

LThe Zamenga acacia (Mooré for Acacia macrostachya) turns out fruit grains, enclosed in a sheath, that are boiled and eaten as zamné, offered like the local “peanuts” at family gatherings or on festive occasions (baptism and marriage ceremonies).

Madame Juliette Kongo dans son villageMadame Juliette Kongo dans son muséeThe Egyptian Balanite (Balanites aegyptica) is less well known. But its fruits are popular, eaten more or less like dates. Therefore the tree is sometimes called wild date. The virtues of its fruits are manifold. At the town of Fada N’Gourma Mrs Rose Matie Thiambano has started extracting its oil … and then mixed it with shea butter. Today she sells a series of products, for example a skin lotion, very popular with women suffering from parched skin on their heels as a result of the dry and hot climate. She has set up an association called ”Karie Force”. Its 1000 women members have started small local units to pick the fruit and produce the lotion. The women collect the dates, which fall when mature, directly under the tree (an Egyptian Balanite may yield up to 10 000 dates a year).. (Source: UNDP document on non-cellulose products of Burkina Faso).

Mrs Juliette Kongo knows the Balanite well. She even participated in a cooking competition during the National Week of Culture in Bobo Dioulasso, where she presented ”tchagla” Balanite balls. She explained the procedure: « ”First you must crush the Balanite seeds, boil them with a leaf from a different tree to remove the bitter taste. Then meat from three chickens, crushed or chopped and rolled in millet flour, is added. The dough is flavoured with spices to make it tasty and is cut and rolled into small balls, which are then deep-fried.” ».

Madame Juliette Kongo présentant les graines de nénuphar et la farineLe cous-cous de nénuphar et sa sauceJuliette Kongo showing water lily seeds and millet flour Water lily couscous and sauce I went to see Mrs Kongo in her native village of Wagesetenga, near Ziniaré, where she has created an association called Taab yînga to market non-ligneous forest products. She was just then holding a plate of Balanite beans and seeds. She took me to visit her Women’s Museum … and then she stirred my curiosity by mentioning one of her favourite dishes, ”water lily couscous”.. Thereupon she invited me to a meal with her family in Ouagadougou, to see what the famous couscous is like. It is made from water lily seeds, collected between December and January. I was not disappointed, the couscous was very good and the sauce was excellent.

J I stop here, even though the subject is not exhausted. Each and every non-ligneous product from the forests deserves one or more newsletters. I wish you all an opportunity to taste a water lily couscous with a sauce made from chitoumou larvae, accompanied by chicken and Balanite deep fried balls in the near future.

Koudougou, August 13th 2012
Maurice Oudet
Director, SEDELAN

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