Veld Products Research & Development

Indigenous fruit trees and non-timber forest products. Management of natural resources


  • Background
  • Mission Statement
  • Objectives
  • Stakeholders and beneficiaries
  • Programmes and projects
  • Contact details
  • Background

    VPR&D is a Botswana-based non-governmental organisation, involved in the sustainable utilisation and management of veld products and natural resources for environmental and economic development.

    VPR&D was established in 1981 to research and develop a wide range of veld products and to investigate suitable management systems for natural resources in order to ensure sustainable utilisation.

    Veld products include foods, medicines, craft materials, tannins, gums, resins, dyes, essential oils, florist materials, ornamental plants, insects, horns, hides, skins, and many other renewable natural resources.

    In 1988, VPR&D began a long-term research programme on the domestication of indigenous fruit trees of economic importance from semi arid areas. Later, a fruit tree nursery was established. In 1994 VPR&D formulated a community based natural resources management programme in the central Kalahari starting with three villages/settlements in the western Kwaneng District.

    VPR&D is located in Gabane, a village 20 kilometres west of Gaborone. It has its main research sites and nursery facilities there. VPR&D is governed by a Board of Directors comprised of individuals who are farmers in the Gabane community as well as senior people in the Ministry of Agriculture, the Department of Agricultural Research and NGOs. In addition to its nursery facilities, VPR&D's existing infrastructure also includes capital equipment used for VPR&D's field activities around the country; these activities include its community-based project activities as well as its research work on indigenous fruit tree planting trials and agroforestry trial plots located throughout Botswana. Currently human resources consist of sixteen professional and technical staff working on or in support of its research and development projects. A further ten employees work in its nursery operations.

    Mission Statement

    VPR&D's goal is to undertake research and development projects in partnership with rural communities and households to improve their quality of life through the sustainable utilisation and management of natural resources. In order to achieve this, VPR&D aims:


    1. To research all aspects of veld products: including identification, processing, production and marketing and, the sustainable management of the resources.
    2. To improve the quality of life of rural people through the creation of income-generating and household food security activities based on natural resources.
    3. To domesticate and genetically improve indigenous fruit trees and other plants of socio-economic importance."

    VPR&D has received project funding/support from international donor agencies such as the GTZ (Germany), SNV (Netherlands), EU, IDRC (Canada), FAO (UN), NORAD, DANCED (Denmark), Royal Netherlands Embassy, the British High Commission and the Canada Fund for Botswana.

    Stakeholders and Beneficiaries

    The potential for significant impact from VPR&D's programmes, in economic development as well as environmental protection, has been realised by a diverse group of stakeholder institutions. The Forestry and Range Ecology Department of the Ministry of Agriculture has taken a major interest and uses VPR&D as a resource organisation in its meetings with communities around the country. The findings of the research activities as well as the results of the development activities have had an impact and will inform current and future policy development.

    VPR&D's activities are of a regional nature and already it has established collaborative research projects in Zimbabwe and South Africa, with Namibia soon to follow. It is the stated policy of VPR&D to collaborate and cooperate with other NGOs and government in order to achieve greater efficiency and use of resources to the benefit of the target groups. VPR&D has a staff member on the National Plant Genetics Resources Committee and also represents NGOs on the National Agricultural Research Masterplan Working Group on the Forestry and Natural Resources Committee. The University of Botswana, the Botswana College of Agriculture and Universities in Namibia and South Africa are collaborating with VPR&D in several research and development component activities of the programme. VPR&D is also undertaking collaborative research with Universities in Italy, Germany, Israel and Namibia pertaining to indigenous fruit trees.

    Local and regional NGO stakeholders with whom VPR&D is currently working, include the Forum on Sustainable Agriculture (FONSAG), the Forestry Association of Botswana (FAB), Cooperation for Resource Development and Education (CORDE), the Rural Industries Innovation Centre (RIIC), the Botswana Technology Centre (BTC) and Thusano Lefatseng (TL) in Botswana; ENDA and IUCN and SADC institutions such as the Southern Africa Centre for Cooperation in Agricultural Research (SACCAR) and the Forestry Sector Technical Support Unit (FSTCU) in Malawi.

    Programs and Projects

  • The Community Based Management of Indigenous Forests (CBMIF) Project
  • Indigenous Fruit Tree Research Programme (IFTRP)
  • The Community-based Agroforestry Project (CBAP)
  • Capacity Building of Four NGOs for Community-Based Management of Veld Resources
  • The Community Based Management of Indigenous Forests (CBMIF) Project

    Objectives and strategy

    The Community Based Management of Indigenous Forest Project is a collaborative effort of SNV Botswana, GTZ through the SADC/FSTCU in Malawi and VPR&D.

    It started in 1996 in the villages of Motokwe, Khekhenye and Tshwaane, Western Kweneng Sub-District, with the objective:

    "To improve the living standard of rural communities in Botswana through sustainable and equitable utilisation of veld products."

    The project strategy is based on two assumptions:

    1. People will only be interested in management of veld resources if they can derive a reasonable and sustainable income from it.
    2. Most veld products are found in communal lands and therefore should be managed by the relevant communities.

    In order to maximise benefits for the people from veld products, the project has chosen to address issues related to four aspects of veld product management: management of the indigenous vegetation, domestication, processing and preservation and marketing. While working on these more technical issues, the project attempts to establish mechanisms at community level in which the different uses of natural resources are discussed and decisions are made with sustainability, equity and gender integration as major guiding principles.

    Communal management of veld products for commercial gain, as opposed to random utilisation for subsistence, is a relatively new concept, for VPR&D well as for the communities. In order to make sure that lessons are learned, the project uses an annual consultation cycle. Every year the project plans activities together with the communities, monitors progress and provides support to the communities in the course of the year, and, at the end of each year, evaluates progress and problems, again together with the communities.

    Activities up to date

    Most progress in the initial phase of the project has been made on domestication and sustainable utilisation of veld products. Through subsidised provision of seedlings and nursery materials and training sessions, the project has succeeded in developing awareness and a keen interest among the communities in cultivation of indigenous fruit trees and veld products, agroforestry and bee-keeping. To date almost 4,500 seedlings of fruit trees and veld products have been distributed. Survival rates of the indigenous tree species are 60 - 70 %, which is encouraging given the harsh environment. Also, through involving other projects and organisations in this activity, this activity can now be sustained with a minimum of effort on part of the project. One weakness associated to this activity is that sometimes, because of the low intensity of the follow-up from the project, people do not always adhere to guidelines. Another weakness is that, unlike the activities under the other project components, there is no clear prospect of income generation potential of the species used. The interest of the communities shows however that they are willing to take the risk.

    The project has approached the issue of management of the veld products in the wild, processing and marketing, through organising activities around the products which are currently available in the wild and which are being commercially exploited. In an early stage of project implementation the communities identified the four most potential veld products for income generation:

    Although the specific activities for the different products differed a similar strategy was used. Main steps in the process were raising awareness on availability and ecology through participatory resource assessments, community meetings to agree on harvest areas and quota and working on community organisation for the purpose of quality control and marketing. Participation levels in these discussions ranged between 40 and 70 % of all households, depending on the product and community.

    The activities under this component were implemented in close collaboration with the Agricultural Resources Board, the government body responsible for regulating the extraction of indigenous plants, which gave legal backing to community decisions. A local NGO was asked to assist with community organisation and institution building.

    Although the products we are dealing with are indigenous, the yields still depend on the rainfall, which is highly variable. Last year, 1997, showed high yields of e.g. thatching grass and grapple, whereas this year the yields were far less, both in terms of quality and quantity. The raisin bush did not give any significant yields in 1996 and 1997, because of unfavourable timing of rainfall. Because of these limitations income generated through these products has been relatively low.

    Another problem is that traditional utilisation of the veld products was geared towards subsistence in stead of commerce.

    People know the plants and the properties of those species, which they have used, but do not have a real notion of quantities available and market dynamics. In 1997 for instance the project asked the communities whether they had truffles in the area. All three communities reported back that this year was a bumper year and they would be able to supply large quantities. In the end the project was only able to collect 200kg, which hardly paid for the expenses of the trip. On several occasions the project and the communities had tough discussions on issues such as prices, handling and transport cost and quality. Communities are slowly learning, but it takes time.

    In 1998 a marketing study was conducted to identify additional marketable products and markets. The results of the study indicate that only a few products have potential for income generation, mainly because the limited quantities available of most species does not warrant commercial exploitation. Also, especially for the medicinal plants and wild foods, sophisticated tests and quality control are required, which reduce the possibilities of community based processing. Together with three other NGO's, the project intends to test market indigenous teas, which seem to be available in abundance and the processing of which is fairly simple. Hopefully this collaboration will contribute to the establishment of a marketing network, which will improve the transparency of the market demands and the supply.

    One of the reasons why veld products were selected as the main focus of the project was that it was assumed that veld products were important especially for the more marginalised groups, such as Bushmen and female headed households. The project has monitored participation levels of the different socio-economic groups and discussed the issue with the community groups found that especially these groups are active in the project: Apparently the work involved and the relatively low returns make veld products a last resort. In terms of equity, the project is therefore more focusing on the internal dynamics of the veld products groups.

    These groups were established already in an early phase of the project around the management of group plots. Later the groups became active in other areas as well, such as tree planting and resource assessments.

    The project has supported these groups through regular workshops and training sessions. However, probably mainly because of the variety of activities engaged in and the marginal returns generated so far, these groups have not developed into strong entities. Hopefully the herbal teas will prove to be a viable and profitable enterprise, which would contribute to a stronger organisation. However, if this would prove to be wishful thinking, we may have to draw the conclusion that veld products are not the most appropriate resource around which to build a strong community organisation.

    A more informal community consultation mechanism may be more appropriate for the management of resources with limited income generation potential.

    Way Forward

    The project currently is preparing a second phase project document. The lessons above will be incorporated in the process. Several rounds have been planned to properly consult with the communities and other stakeholders. Also the project is looking into the feasibility of alternative natural resource management activities, such as eco-tourism and, crafts production. The results of these assessments combined with the experiences of the first phase will help to make deliberate choices. However, there still are a big number of unknowns and uncertainties regarding the resources and it's management, and the communities and the project will have to continue the process of learning by doing which started in the first phase of the project.

    Indigenous Fruit Tree Research Programme (IFTRP)

    The primary focus of VPR&D's agricultural activities has been propagation for the domestication of indigenous fruit trees. Emphasis in this area is due to the urgent need to develop viable alternatives to arable agriculture for those regions in Africa, which continually struggle with problems of marginal soils, erratic rainfall and recurring droughts. The potential for the successful domestication of indigenous fruit trees is high, as the trees are well adapted to such adverse conditions. In addition, the trees are ideally suited for rural communities to replace and/or supplement the decline in natural resources around villages and settlements. In addition to being environmentally friendly and preserving plant biodiversity in semi-arid Botswana, VPR&D seeks to provide alternative forms of agriculture which provide greater food security. Research into the domestication of indigenous fruit trees started in 1989 and currently, VPR&D has become one of the regional leaders in this field.

    The main objective of the programme is:

    "To domesticate and promote the planting and management of indigenous fruit trees and other plants of socio-economic importance with the participation of rural communities."

    Superior Phenotypes

    The term "superior phenotype" in the context of indigenous fruit trees, refers to any characteristic or trait of a tree which is of a relatively higher quality in terms of production, sweetness and size of fruit produced. That is, trees, which produce a lot of fruit or fruit that is large and sweet, are ones considered to be superior phenotypes. In an attempt to locate such trees, VPR&D has undertaken countrywide competitions among primary school children which begun in 1992. The primary schools are in rural areas closest to undisturbed, wild fruit trees. The competitions were started in an effort to identify the superior phenotypes of indigenous fruit trees of socio-economic importance. The weight, size, sugar and acidity of the competition entries are measured. The top 10 entries of each species are then tagged as superior phenotypes and used for planting trials and later, genetic improvement research. VPR&D is targeting 10 superior phenotypes from each of the following species; morula (Sclerocarya birrea), mogorogorwane (wild orange, Strychnos cocculoides), mmilo (wild medlar, Vanuaria infausta), morojwa (African chewing gum, Azanza garckeana) and mongongo (manketti nut trees, Schinziophyton rautanenii).


    In an attempt to maintain the superior phenotype identified throughout a species, a process of propagation is employed. This is where the parts of the tree, including the seed, are harvested and grown under controlled conditions. By this process, improved tree seedlings are being made available to the public. Moreover, such research is significant in evaluating the performance of seedlings in traditional areas as well as new geographical locations.


    Currently, 18 planting trials have been established around Botswana mainly to identify which locations allow optimum for the growth and fruit production for each of the selected species. For example, research has shown that morojwa is adaptable to most areas whereas mmilo has not survived those areas that are frost-prone.

    A further significance of the trials deals with grafting. As some fruit tree species have trees that are both male and female, and because it is important to be sure that trees planted for fruit production are female, a process of grafting is utilised. Grafting is when a seedling is joined with a piece of stem from the chosen superior tree to ensure the transfer of preferred characteristics. The process also ensures the preferred sex of the resulting seedling, which is important as in the case of morula. A grafted female morula tree will start producing fruit 3 to 5 years after being planted in the field whereas an ungrafted female tree can take 10 to 12 years.

    The exercise of establishing planting trials throughout Botswana has introduced rural populations to the concept of tree planting. To date, approximately 140 households in the Kweneng District have voluntarily planted 1000 or more trees in their yards. According to data recorded, there has been a 75% survival rate among trees planted by households and assisted by VPR&D staff. The indications strongly suggest there is a high potential to improve the livelihoods of the communities through the planting of indigenous fruit trees as well as to foster motivation and self-reliance. VPR&D also aims to involve young people in various planting trials. Students participate in data collection, irrigation and the protection of the trees planted in Community Junior Secondary Schools throughout Botswana.
    It is hoped that during, as well as following formal education, students will gain the knowledge to plant and maintain indigenous fruit trees on their own.

    Nursery activities

    Prior to 1996 there had been no specialist fruit tree nursery in Botswana and very few Batswana ever planted fruit trees. Currently however, there is an increasing interest among communities to learn about, and begin planting indigenous fruit trees (trees which require no irrigation two years after the tree has been planted). Gabane Nurseries was thus established to raise seedlings for research as well is an eventual commercial outlet for income generation. The nursery also serves to familiarise people with the concepts and techniques of growing indigenous fruit trees and to encourage the idea as a feasible supplement to arable agriculture. Although the primary purpose of the nursery is to research the propagation of indigenous fruit trees, the nursery also studies and sells exotic fruit trees such as oranges, mangos and peaches, (trees which require sufficient amounts of irrigation).

    The Community-based Agroforestry Project (CBAP)

    The Community-Based Agroforestry Project (CBAP) was started in June 1997.

    The main objective of CBAP is:

    "To support communities in the development of appropriate low-input and sustainable agroforestry systems that will increase food and household security for subsistence farmers in semi-arid Botswana."

    In 1995 VPR&D established an agroforestry trial at its site in Gabane. This trial combines indigenous fruit tree species with traditional crops and rainwater harvesting, and is used for experimentation and demonstration purposes. With CBAP VPR&D aims to disseminate the experience that has been gained with this trial into communities, to create an interest in agroforestry and to develop viable and appropriate alternatives to traditional agriculture. CBAP operates in villages in the eastern Hardveld: Gabane, Thabala, Paje, Letcheng and Tsamaya.

    The Schools Programme

    Agroforestry demonstration plots were established in September 1997 at the following schools: Thabala Primary School, Paje Primary School, Gabane C.J.S.S., Mokgala C.J.S.S. and Shanganani C.J.S.S. The trees were planted at the end of October and many students were taught about tree planting, tree management and agroforestry. The tree species that have been planted are; morula, morojwa, mogorogorwane, and mmilo. Monthly visits have been made to the schools and teaching materials on tree planting and agroforestry have been prepared for the teachers involved with the project. The demonstration plots serve to introduce the concept of agroforestry in to the communities.

    The Farmers Programme

    Farmers were informed about the project through kgotla meetings and the Agricultural Demonstrators. To date 13 farmers have joined the project and are preparing their plots. The trees will be distributed in December. The farmers contribute P1.00 towards each tree, and make all the management decisions themselves (such as which species of crops and trees to plant, and where). Experimentation with various species and techniques is encouraged, and training is provided where needed.

    The project has been funded for two years and ends in June '99. Further donor funding will be sought to continue the project.

    The project has been funded by the European Community (EC) and the Government of Botswana, Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry Department for two years (June 1997 - June 1999) and is supported by Skillshare Africa. It is expected that a follow up will be required after this period and further funding will be sought to continue the project.

    1998 promises to be an interesting year as farmers will become actively involved in the CBAP. The project approach will be participatory and will focus on learning by doing. Farmers will be encouraged to experiment with various species and techniques in an effort to determine the most suitable agroforestry interventions for their specific farming systems. To facilitate this process, appropriate training materials and methodologies need to be developed by the project so as to add sustainability to CBAP and enable VPR&D to expand its agroforestry activities.

    Capacity Building of Four NGOs for Community-Based Management of Veld Resources, Botswana a.k.a. The "4 NGOs Project" a DANCED-funded initiative

    Major parts of the natural woodlands in Botswana are communal land, and group formation in communities is a necessity for sustainable management of the natural resources in such areas. One way of initiating and sustaining such developments is to support NGOs working with the communities. In Botswana, NGOs are one of the most effective vehicles for empowering local communities to manage communal land sustainably. The four NGOs presented below are the major NGOs involved in the sector. All four of these NGOs are implementing partners in the project with VPR&D being the Executing Agency for the project.

    The four NGOs are:

    The 4 NGOs project is a new initiative that commenced in June 1998 and will run for five years. The development goal to which the project will contribute in the long term is:

    "Rural communities throughout Botswana manage veld products sustainably."

    The project is contributing to the achievement of the development goal through the fulfilment of the following immediate objectives: The capacity of four NGOs to work with communities for sustainable management of veld products in a complementary manner strengthened by year 2002.

    The implementation of the project is based upon the existing organisational structure of the four NGOs. However, the project improves the organisational structure by including a co-ordinating forum (the PMG) among the NGOs. This structure functions to create confidence, exchange information and join forces among the NGOs where it makes sense for the individual NGO and, by the end of the project, the NGOs will have tried in practise to provide complementary input (for the benefit of the communities) and to provide joint input for advocacy and policy development e.g. the Forest Policy. By strengthening the core competence of these NGOs the project will enhance the sustainability of the organisations.

    Contact details

    Veld Products Research & Development
    PO Box 2020
    Tel: +267 347047/347029
    Fax: +267 347363

    click here to go to top of page

    Last Updated: October 9, 2000