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Book review: Gnetum Africanum in Poverty Alleviation and people 

By Kebuma Tita Jude Emmanuel

Book review: Gnetum Africanum in Poverty Alleviation and people’s Livelihood
(Putting Eru on dining tables worldwide)

LAP LAMBERT Academic Publishing (Saarbrucken, Germany).  89 pages. Illustrated.2009. $61 on and $89.57 on
Reviewed By Ntemfac Ofege


Humankind has always known the benefits of alternative medicine i.e. using plants especially in various forms of treatment and healing. As climate change disrupts man habitual food chain and as globalisation becomes rampant, dining tables and eateries worldwide would just have to accommodate alternative foods –exotic eatables from other cultures and lands gracing the dining table. For one thing, fares from other lands tend to be even more toothsome and wholesome.

A case in point is the Eru – GnetumAfricanum- a creeping plant which thrives abundantly within humid tropical forests. There are at least 30 different varieties of this liana spread across Cameroon alone. Eru is a plant of the Gnetaceae family. This climbing rainforest vine often rises beyond 15m and it clings to tall trees or it just hangs in forest gaps and fallow farms – abandoned and newly deforested areas.

The Eru plant needs the shade to grow because the focused tropical sunlight scorches its leaves. Moreover the soaring forest trees provide great support for the climbing Eru vines. The plant can survive volcanic, sandy and clay soils but seldom thrives in marshy areas. Apparently, the plant does very well in the humid conditions present inside dense tropical forests but once the trees are cut down and new farms open, the plant sprouts and then speedily dies.

GnetumAfricanum is the principal ingredient in the making of our subject- the lip-smacking Eru soup. The Afang soup and its variant Edika-ikong soup, so relished by the Nigerians in Cross River and Akwa Ibom states, are just varieties of Eru. In fact, Gnetum Africanum’s close relative – the Gnetum Bucholzianum or the “Kok” also does very well within Cameroon’s forests. Kok soup is a staple of Cameroonians in the Centre and South regions.

Once upon a time, rice and chicken or meat stew were fixtures for official and officious ceremonies in most Cameroonian households. No more. Water fufu and Eru have come from behind to ease rice out of its pedestal. Kids sniff again when that one-of-a-kind Eru whiff comes filtering from the kitchen and many start salivating. There is a very good reason for this. Eru’s solid gold status as a highly nutritive dish weight is also derived from the various ingredients used in preparing Eru.

The fact about the matter is that every Eru recipe comes along with huge slices of red meat or smoked fish, crayfish or crevettes from whence Cameroon got its name, spinach (water leaf or Talinum triangulare) and then of course, plenty of palm oil. The potential of Eru and about the perfect meal is enhanced by its accompanying dish – the Waterfufu (a cassava or Manihotesculenta dough) a carbohydrate and hence energy-heavy attendant to Eru. With such a medley all studies state that Waterfufu and Eru is a formidable antidote for malnutrition. 

“Gnetum Africanum in Poverty Alleviation and People’s Livelihood”is a timely academic work deserving global attention. All indicators from the United Nations, the World Food programme, as well as data from institutions crusading against climate change show that planet earth is speeding full steam ahead into a crisis called global food shortage.

Consequently, a study – any study – that provides an outlet, any outlet, for human survival deserves undivided attention. A horse race plant, purveyor of both nutrition and medicine, is not a force march but a shoo in as humanity struggles for food safety and survival. Researcher Jude Emmanuel Kebuma Tita, however, set out in this work to go beyond a simplistic presentation of the fundamental mouth-watering and overpowering medicinal and nutritive values of Eru.

The five chapters of this work actually set out to consider the role and potential of this plant in poverty alleviation, not only in one of its native habitat belonging to the foot of Mount Cameroon but also throughout Cameroon. And his findings are impressive. The author posits that this plant is a winner – in trade, in nutrition, in medicine – a sure foreign exchange earner if only Eru could be cultivated in industrial quantities and marketed worldwide.

It is just a matter of good sense. Would you or would not you take a big bite out of a vegetable-dish that every study says contains 11g protein per every 500g and also sizeable quantities of other incontrovertible body-builders like iron and zinc, potash, etc.? This is in addition to the fact that Eru has known medicinal values. Since time immemorial, the natives have used the Eru plant as treatment for high blood pressure, sore-throat, enlarged spleen, piles, constipation, etc.

This protein-iron rich plant is known to increase blood production. Various varieties of the Eru plant are used by forests tribes an enema, an antidote for arrow poison. In Cameroon, the leaves are chewed to mitigate drunkenness. The plant is also used to treat boils and fungal infections of the fingers.In fine; here is a miracle plant that could change the often sorry livelihood of its parent communities and environs.

Unfortunately this is not so. The researcher now reflects on the challenges hampering the luxuriant industrialization of Eru. Among the kyrie of challenges are government policy reforms that define and promote incentives for the industrial cultivation of Eru, its storage, management and commercialization. The researcher also calls for the protection of the rights of the indigenes to their God-given resource.

With the rural-agricultural communities that live below Mount Cameroon as his case study, Kebuma now calls for a review of Cameroon’s agricultural priorities so as to translate Eru cultivation into an even more lucrative activity with the intention of providing the communities engaged in (and dependent) on the exploitation of the vine with the wherewithal for self-actualization.

Also, a nation’s wealth resides primarily in its natural resources and the management thereof. Increasingly, forestry exploitation and management is receiving the full attention of governments (decision-makers) and urban dwellers who once thought that these were micro-economic activities consigned to the rural poor. The perception of the forest as an “economic safety net” for the rural poor is thus being re-appraised.

Kebuma’s study is eyebrow-raising. This is not a novel. This is an academic work translated into a publication. Such works tend to be dense, unremittingly intense, didactic, gothic and peculiar – full of facts and figures – presented as encyclopedic compilations of knowledge.The difference here is that the author is dealing with some basic concern of life – food and survival.

Consequently – more than the reading experience – the studying experience demands single-mindedness, cogitation and digestion and the ingestion, very like dealing with a plate of Waterfufu and Eru. The author’s desire is for his research to trigger a critical discussion on how to mainstream Eru cultivation and development and ultimately contribute in bailing out the masses from poverty.

The author, Jude Emmanuel KebumaTita, holds a Master of Science degree in Agricultural Development from the University of Copenhagen, Denmark. He is the Executive Director of Agricultural Development and Corporate Management Consultancy, ADCMC with headquarters in Londerzeel, Belgium, and Liaison Offices in England, Sweden and Cameroon.

First published in The Post newspaper no 01408

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