Watermelons for life: The potential of indigenous African genetic resources

Description

Genetic resources of indigenous plant species are important for crop and diet diversity. Watermelon originates from Africa, and indigenous genetic resources have potential both as a source of protein and fat (seeds), carbohydrates, fibres and vitamins, and are believed to be more drought tolerant and resistant to pests and diseases. Studies indicate that the variation is predominant in farmers’ fields North of its centre of diversity in the Kalahari Desert. Here, farmers have developed landraces for a variety of purposes: for dessert, oil, seed and porridge. These communities have not adopted modern varieties despite being exposed to these for decades. However, the status of traditional watermelon cultivation in other parts of Africa is sparsely described. In traditional farming, watermelon is grown in intercropping with cereals. However, its, yield contribution and other characteristics are ignored in agronomic literature. Simple selection programs can increase yield of landraces with 25% or more over a single breeding cycle. There may thus be a large potential in using the African landraces of watermelon in traditional farming systems. In Africa, watermelon dominates in low rainfall areas. On the other hand watermelon has been developed under much higher precipitation in USA, South East Asia and China. It is likely that these secondary centres can also contribute to development of improved watermelon for traditional uses in Africa, but here we will mainly focus on the indigenous resources. This project will analyse the status of watermelon cultivation in selected areas in East and West Africa to assess the potential for small-holder farming to increase food supply and stability, and to generate income. The project will include analysis of the genetic diversity of African landraces, an assessment of the watermelon in traditional cropping systems and the local uses. Special attention will be paid to drought tolerance and disease resistance of landraces. The implementation of the project will take place in collaboration between National institutions in Mozambique, Tanzania, Kenya, Mali and Denmark, in close collaboration with Bioversity International. Annual workshops on progress including training in various subjects will secure smooth implementation. Two PhD projects will be part of the programme