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FRAMe

The project "Farmer Resilience and Melon Crop Diversity in southern Africa" (FRAMe) aims at a future-oriented agriculture of crop diversity using melons as an example. The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) is funding the project with more than 300,000 euros over the next three years.

Southern Africa has a rich bounty of crop varieties, crop wild relatives, orphan crops and underutilised plant species, collectively known as plant genetic resources for food and agriculture (PGRFA), which have sustained generations of local farmers and rural communities and enabled them to cope with changing conditions. Coupled with these PGRFA, extensive and instructive traditional knowledge has underpinned local farmer resilience. Conservation and development of these resources can only be enabled through fundamental research on their biology, genetic background, and evolutionary history.

Southern Tropical Africa is an important centre of diversity for the family Cucurbitaceae (melons), with 116 species in 28 genera in Southern Tropical Africa (Leistner, 2005). Many taxa occupy niches in traditional agroecosystems, cuisine, culture and local economies. An endemic cucurbit (!nara, Acanthosicyos horridus) limited to the hyperarid Namib Desert is extensively used by local communities, and with targeted investigation has significant potential to be developed into a commercial field crop. The genus Citrullus is particularly diverse in southern Africa, including several endemics. Farmers cultivate a variety of melon landraces for different purposes, and these are thus preadapted to drought and disease. The origin of globally important sweet watermelon (Citrullus lanatus) was considered to be in southern Africa, although recent research draws this into dispute while urging for confirmation of taxon delimitation (Renner et al., 2017). The use of advanced molecular, i.e. genomic and transcriptomic tools, coupled with extensive sampling, ecological niche modelling, and farmer consultation across the region, will elucidate these issues, and will improve understanding and evaluation of these resources at ecological and molecular levels, particularly as regards drought-tolerance. This research has untold potential for food security as well as for crop improvement programmes across the globe, while clarifying the southern African contribution to melon domestication.

 

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Participating Institutions

The FRAMe project involves the University of Cape Town (South Africa), the University of Zambia and the University of Namibia, in addition to the Nees Institute at the University of Bonn (Germany) and the Gobabeb - Namib Research Institute (Namibia).

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Citations

Leistner, O.A. 2005. Seed plants of Southern Tropical Africa: Families and Genera. Southern African Botanical Diversity Network Report No. 26. SABONET, Pretoria.

Renner, S.S., Souza, A. & Chomicki, G. 2017. Chromosome numbers, Sudanese wild forms, and classification of the watermelon genus Citrullus, with 50 names allocated to seven biological species. Taxon 66 (6) https://doi.org/10.12705/666.7

 

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