Marathon runner Gerima Mustafa of Uganda walked some 664 kilometers across East Africa earlier this year to call attention to threats to the shea nut tree, a source of food, medical products and income for many living from West Africa to Somalia.
Now research scientists studying the shea in Burkina Faso have found that it is biodiversity within ecosystems that might save the shea, which is often targeted by charcoal traders who kill and sell the trees for far less than the long-term worth of their benefits. The habitats are lost to ever-increasing agricultural shifts too, with a clear overall link to the impacts of human activity.
Scientist Aoife Delaney of the UK, along with Burkinabe researchers and British ecologists, studied 10 different parkland locations in Burkina Faso were the trees are cultivated. They say the tree – able to produce nuts for 200 years – relies on pollinators that thrive when other tree and shrub species around it create a habitat to support the pollinators, especially bees.
“Consequently, shea yields are likely to benefit from retention of a range of different tree and shrub species in parklands,” Delaney and the research team said. Their work was recently published in the Journal of Applied Ecology.
The authors recommend maintaining a range of native woody species throughout their lifespans, and planting new ones into cultivated fields when cleared. The idea is to be intentional and proactive about protecting the trees.
“Fragments of semi‐natural habitat in the surrounding landscape may not be sufficient to provide the necessary pollination services,” they concluded. “In a region that is subject to nutritional poverty and where the finance required to supplement local foods is lacking for most families, maintaining natural ecosystem services that support food provision must be a priority.”