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Results and Discussion

Plant
species found in the immediate vicinity of homesteads

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A checklist of plant species found inside, or within the immediate vicinity
of homesteads, the various communities surveyed are shown in Table 1.  Most of the plant species found are
deliberately left for specific purposes, which include food, medicinal,
cultural or spiritual purposes. Other purposes include sourcing of construction
materials, tools making, and crafts, or as source of cash to satisfy mundane
family needs like buying detergent or salt. The plant species that were most
abundant, including Manihot
esculenta (Cassava), Musa sapentium
var. paradisiaca (Plantains) Musa sapentium (banana), Citrus sinensis (orange) and Elaeis guineensis (oil palm), were found
in each of the eight communities surveyed (Table 1). Similarly, M. indica L. (Mango) and Dacryodes edulis L. (‘native pear’), which are grown for
their edible fruits, were found in homesteads of seven of the communities
surveyed.  Apart from its edible fruits,
mango leaves are also used to treat several ailments including fevers, stomach
upsets and lethargy. 

Nine other plant species were found in six of the communities surveyed
in the Egi area of the Niger Delta.  They
include Persea americana, Cocos nucifera, Xanthosoma mafaffa, Vernonia amygdalina, Telfairia
occidentalis, Saccharum officinarum, Ocimum brasilicum, Carica papaya and Ananas comosus. The
species Persea americana (Avocado), which was recently introduced into
the Niger Delta area, and aptly called ‘English Pear’ by the natives, were
sighted as lone trees growing in family compounds in the communities. Cocoyam (Xanthosoma
mafaffa) for its corm, while Bitter leaf (Vernonia amygdalina), Ugu
(Telferia occidentalis), and Sweet Basil (Ocimum brasilicum), are
grown as vegetables. Also, Saccharum officinarum (Sugarcane) and Cocos
nucifera (coconut) are grown for their cane and fruits respectively.

Similarly, Ananas comosus L. (Pineaple) and C. papaya L.
(Pawpaw) are planted for fruits and, especially in the case of mango, for medicinal
purposes.  Trees (Irvingia gabonensis, ‘bush mango’ and Psidium guajava,
Guava), corn (Zea mays) and the herb ‘Scent Leaves’ (Ocimum gratissimum), were seen in five of the eight communities
surveyed.  The bush mangos and guava
trees are grown for fruits, as well as for medicinal purposes. Scent leaves are used as vegetables for
making soup and as spices for preparing pepper soup, while corn are consumed in
different forms: roasted or boiled and eaten as snack or prepared in other
forms such as gruel (pap).

Eight of the plant species were sighted in three, or less, community,
including economically important species such as Garcinia kola, Theobroma
cacao, Harvea brasiliensis, Dioscorea spp, Anarcardium occidentalis, and
Ipeoma batatas. Also, some species with underutilized potentials were also
encountered in the study area and they include Chrysophyllum albidum,
Artocarpus communis, Anonna muricate, Terminelia cartappa, Amaranthus
hybridus and Gnetum africana.  A turf of lemon grass was sighted in a
compound in the study area, which appeared to be exotic to the area, but the
owner was said to have planted it for medicinal purposes.

Plant species found in areas outside the immediate vicinity of homesteads

The plant species encountered in areas
outside the immediate vicinity of homesteads, but within a walking distance, from
the edge of homestead gardens to the forested areas are shown in Table 1.  These areas comprised of diverse habitat,
hence the plant species were segregated into the habitats where they were encountered.
The plant habitats in question varied with communities but, basically, four
habitat types were discerned including forests, fallow lands, riparian and
aquatic.

A total of twenty five (27) plant
species were encountered in all the four habitats encountered, ten (10) of
which occurred in more than one habitat.  Three species were seen in only the Forest
habitat, as compared to three species that were exclusively seen in Aquatic
Habitat. Five (5) of twenty-five plant species encountered were seen only in
Fallow habitat.  Similarly, the Riparian
habitat also had five (5) species that were not seen in other habitats.

Among plant species that occurred
in more than one habitats Elaeis
guineensis Jacq. (Oil Palm tree) was present in three of the four habitats
identified (i.e., excluding aquatic habitat). The oil palm trees were also seen
within the homesteads of in all the communities surveyed. Seven out of the
species were present in both forest and fallow lands. In the forest habitat,
standing plants were seen, while only coppices at various stages of re-growths
were sighted in the fallow lands. Only one species of plant, Anthocleista vogelii Planch., was common
to both Forest and Riparian habitat.  Only
Alchornea cordifolia (Schum. &
Thonn.) Müll. Arg. occurred in both Fallow and Riparian habitats. Gnetum africana, which was seen planted near the homestead, was also encountered
in the forest areas. Although Okazi is planted in homestead gardens,
they grow very slowly and often do not establish or grow well when planted;
hence they are mostly harvested from the wild.

Local uses of the plant species and their roles in family nutrition

In sub-Saharan Africa, like most of the developing world, and
increasingly even in the developed world, families utilise lands within the immediate
vicinities of their houses to grow plants that provide food and nutrition to
families (Nwaneka and Chude, 2017).  The
literature is replete with descriptions of the patterns, purposes, and
nomenclatures for this practice, but their basic purpose is to provide social,
spiritual, cultural and food to their owners (Essien et al., 2013).  In the poorer communities, such as in
sub-Saharan Africa, the neglected plants in the homestead environment provide a
form of income security in hard times, and as a source of food/nutrition and
medicine at all times (Ubom, 2012; Nwaneke and Chude, 2017). The plant species
found around the homesteads or within family compounds are deliberately left
for food, medicinal, cultural or spiritual purposes (Essien et al.,
2013), as source of materials for construction, tools, crafts or spiritual
items.  In addition, the homestead
environment also supplies products that may be exchanged for petty cash to
satisfy mundane family needs like buying soap or salt (Essien et al.,
2013).

Most of the plant species found in the immediate vicinity of the
homesteads are edible; some are cultivated for their medicinal or spiritual
values, while others serve multiple purposes. 
Many of the species,
such as Magnifera indica, Dacryodes edulis, Persea
americana, Carica papaya, Chrysophyllum albidum and Ananas comosus, are grown mostly for their tasty
fruits.  The species Persea Americana,
locally called ‘English Pear’, is cherished for its plum, creamy and tasty
fruit pulp. Chrysophyllum
albidum, known as Udara in local parlance, is grown for its tasty fruits with high commercial value that
constitute a veritable source of rural family income (Ureigho and Ekeke, 2010).
These fruit trees are veritable sources of minerals and vitamins; some of them can
supply the recommended dietary average, especially for children.  Bitter
leaf (Vernonia amygdalina), Ugu (Telferia occidentalis), Sweet
Basil (Ocimum brasilicum), ‘Spinach’ (Amaranthus hybridus) and
Okazi (Gnetum africana) which are consumed vegetables and their leaves
are used as soup condiments (Belewu et al., 2009). The leaves of
Okazi plant are rich in aspartic acid, dietary fibre, proteins and
vitamins.  They are also rich sources of
essential amino acids and minerals, including zinc, magnesium, calcium and iron
(Ndoumou et al., 2014). Amaranthus hybridus is reported to supply
the body with appreciable amounts of protein, vitamins and minerals (Kadiri and Olawoye, 2015).

The species Xanthosoma mafaffa (Cocoyam), Manihot esculentis
(Cassava), Dioscorea spp (yams) and Artocarpus cuminis (Breadfruit),
are valuable for their starchy corms, roots and fruits respectively. The
cocoyam corms can be eaten boiled or, as it is the case in the study area, as
thickening for making special native soups. Cassava is well known for its
starchy roots and is locally processed into garri or fufu (loi-loi), but can
also be industrially processed into starch, high grade syrup, flour, chips or
flakes (Adeniji, 2013). Locally, the breadfruit
is processed into starchy foods, while the seeds are roasted and consumed as
snacks, but they are staple foods in various places on the Pacific Islands
(ref). Breadfruit can also be processed into various menus, bread flour or as
nutritious feeds for broilers.

Although the Sugarcane (Saccharum officinarum) has known
commercial value as source of sugar, they are not grown on commercial scale in
the Niger Delta. Sugarcane are grown for consumption as snacks, hence only a
few stands were seen around homesteads. Similarly, Cocos nucifera (coconut),
are also not grown on any appreciable scale in the study area.  They are mostly grown for aesthetics to
decorate the landscape around homesteads, but their fruits are also consumed as
snacks.

The bush mangos and guava trees are grown for their fruits, as well as
for medicinal purposes. The pulp of the bush mango is consumed fresh, while the
seeds (Ogbono) are used as thickener in preparing the Ogbono soup, a popular
delicacy in the Niger Delta in particular and Nigeria in general.  In southwest Nigeria, almost
three-third of the population consume bush mango (Irvingia gabonensis) as fresh fruits or as soup condiments (Osewa
et al., 2013). Scent leaves are used
as vegetables for making soup and as spices for preparing pepper soup, while
corn seeds are roasted or boiled and eaten as snack, or the raw seeds are used
in making ‘akamu’ (pap).

Some of the species have multiple uses: e.g., Vernonia amygdalina and
Telferia occidentalis are used for medicinal purposes, including serving
as therapeutic supplementary nutrition for humans.  Apart from its edible fruits, mango leaves
are also used to treat several ailments including fevers, stomach upsets and
lethargy.  Pawpaw, bitter kola, are used
to treat several ailments including fevers, stomach upset, lethargy and as
laxatives.  In addition to
these species have commercial, medicinal or food values, some species also have
spiritual/cultural values. For example, Dioscorea spp signify fertility
and power and its harvest mark the beginning of the year in an annual ceremony
called the New Yam festival. The tree Cola nitida produces the kola nuts
(fruits), which are consumed as stimulants and constitute an important source
of cash.  Most importantly, kola nuts are
respected and they play important socio-cultural roles in the lives of not only
the Egi people but the entire Nigeria. No traditional ceremony such as wedding,
child naming, funeral or even when visiting; is complete without offerings of
kola nut.

The ‘bitter cola’ (Garcina kola) seeds
are harvested for consumption as stimulant or sold for cash income. Also,
fruits of Garcinia kola are used medicine against several ailments
associated with respiratory, circulatory and digestive systems; while ground
bitter cola seeds are used as snake repellents and to ward off evil spirits. Bitter
kola is also taken on account of poverty or during periods of food shortages.
For instance, in a rural location in Southwest Nigeria, 36.7% of the people
confessed to have consumed bitter kola (Garcinia
kola) as food during hard times (Osewa at
al., 2013).

Species with future potentials in ensuring local food security

Amongst the species identified
within the study area, some are not only underutilised, but have great
potentials for improving the food security situation in the study area,
especially during period of distress occasioned by climate change.  Apart from provision of food and medicine,
the underutilised tree species can also contribute to climate mitigation by
capturing atmospheric carbon dioxide in their biomass.  The underutilised species found in the study
area are shown in Table 3 and they include trees and shrubs, and most of them
have multiples uses.  However, this paper
focuses on their uses as food and, their potentials to enhance the resilience
of the poor rural inhabitants in the face of climate change thereby ensuring
food and nutrition security.

Breadfruit (Artocarpus communis Forst) is an underutilised plant in Nigeria,
but provides staple diet in many tropical countries, especially in south
Pacific and the Caribbean (Tijani et al.,
2017). The annual production of breadfruit in estimated to be about 10 million
metric tonnes, which is less than one-tenth of Nigeria’s potential production
capacity (Bakare et al., 2015).  It can be cultivated using root cuttings, but
its yield is limited by lack of improved high yielding cultivars. The
breadfruit is a high value, nutritive fruit that can be processed into diverse
types of dishes (Tijani et al.,
2017).  The fruits can also be used to
produce high quality composite flour that can be composited with wheat flour
and used to make bread, biscuit and other confectionaries (Amusa et al., 2002; Bakare et al., 2015).

Annona muricata, locally called sour-sop, is native to warmest parts
of the Americas and it is widely distributed across the warm areas of the world
including Nigeria. The fruits of Annona
muricata are edible and can be processed into
juice, fruit nectar, smoothes, candies, or used as flavouring for ice cream. Sour-sop
is reported to contain relatively high concentrations of dietary minerals (Ca,
Mg, K, Fe), hence can provide human bodies with this minerals (Moghadamtousi,
2015).

Chrysophyllum albidum produce tasty and fleshy fruits
called ‘Udara’ that are eaten as snack that it is very popular across the Niger
Delta. Udara is reported to contain appreciable amounts of Vitamins (especially
A and C), thiamine and riboflavin (Ureigho and Ekeke, 2010).  The fruit also contains extractable juice that
can be used in making soft beverages, or fermented to produce wine and other
alcoholic beverages (Ajewole and Adeyeye, 1991).  In addition, seeds of Udara contain edible oils
with high unsaturated fatty acids; the consumption of which can reduce the risk
of heart diseases.

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