Seeds of hope

Seeds of hope

This booklet tells a remarkable story. At one level, it is about the domestication of an African tree whose seeds contain an oil with unique properties. At another, it is about a public-private partnership – the Novella Project – which could provide a model for the development of new crops. The Allanblackia tree has been used by villagers for centuries as a source of cooking oil, medicine and timber, but till recently it was of little interest beyond equatorial Africa. This is now set to change. In 2000,Unilever began using Allanblackia oil to make small quantities of soap in Ghana. A sample was sent back to Europe for analysis. The oil, it turned out, possessed properties which made it a ‘food technologist’s dream, ‘ideally suited to the manufacture of white spreads like margarine. The demand for Allanblackia oil could exceed 200,000 tonnes a year, but there are nowhere near enough trees in the wild to satisfy demand. To address the problem, the Novella Project launched a major domestication programme.