Magic Marama – The Green Gold of Africa

A wild plant that produces beans and potato-like roots, for decades harvested by the San people in Nambia, is showing huge potential towards solving many malnutrition and hunger problems in Africa, but specifically southern Africa.

In their studies of the marama bean, researchers at the University of Cape Town‘€™s Department of Botany have found it to be a versatile legume and potentially a high-protein, sustainable food crop for Africa.

The bean, which is endemic to southern Africa, also yields high quantities of oil, produces a high-protein tuber like the potato or yam, and grows in poor quality soil.

UCT’€™s Professor Felix Dakora says that if developed properly, the marama bean could eliminate traditional sources of protein and oil such as peanuts and soya beans.

What makes this little plant even more important to South Africa and rest of the continent is the fact that it thrives in poor quality, sandy soil such as the Kalahari desert with little or almost no water.

Dakora describes the marama plant as “a little green creeper growing wild in the veld”.

The leaves are bi-lobed, opening up in cooler conditions, but closing in hot dry conditions to conserve water and moisture.

The marama produces edible and, according to Dakora, “tasty” tubers that can weigh up to 160 kg (per plant). The plant uses the tuber to store water.

The tuber is an edible root similar to a potato or yam (sweet potato).

The marama tuber contains about 9 percent protein while the potato has about 5 percent and the yam 7 percent.

“It’€™s also very nice raw,” Dakora adds.

But this is not the only benefit the little creeper has.

According to Dakora the leaves are highly palatable sought out by livestock and wild animals. “The leaves could be good fodder,” he said.

Discussing the marama seed or bean, Dakora says the seedling is hardy and rigorous, able to germinate quickly once placed in water, producing a short stumpy seedling.

“If developed properly this bean could be a perfect two in one food source in terms of its protein and oil content.

“It could even replace the peanut and soyabean,” he says, adding that the marama bean could be roasted and salted in the same way as a peanut.

Because of its growth habit, the plant is a perfect way to protect soil from erosion caused by wind and water. “It is an excellent cover crop,” Dakora says.

Some wild species have been found south of Pretoria increasing as you move into the Northern Province, Botswana and Namibia.

Understanding how it is able to secure the necessary nitrogen to ensure such a high protein yield is also a large part of the UCT research. ‘€“ health-e news service.

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  • Health-e News

    Health-e News is South Africa's dedicated health news service and home to OurHealth citizen journalism. Follow us on Twitter @HealtheNews

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