Project RAPHIA

The genus Raphia is the most diverse and most used palm genus across Africa. Ironically, it is the least known and understood of all palms in Africa. Even though it is has great potential as a sustainable resource for local populations (food, shelter, wine, traditional uses), very little is known on the taxonomy, ecology, economic value, and trade of its species. RAPHIA will try to fill in this knowledge gap in Cameroon. 

RAPHIA is a project for and with the South. Most of the activities will be undertaken in Cameroon in close collaboration with several local universities, institutes and NGOs. These will be:
- Université de Yaoundé 1 (UY1), Ecole Normale Supérieure (Yaoundé, Cameroon)
- NGO CARD: Cercles d’Assistants en Ressources pour le Développement Durable (Cameroon)
- CIFOR : Center for International Forestry Research (Yaoundé, Cameroon)
- LIFT association (Yaoundé, Cameroon)

RAPHIA will contribute to capacity building in Cameroon. One PhD student and three Master degree students will actively participate in the project for field work and data analyses. These students will contribute importantly to the research of the project, and dissemination of its results.

Raphia uses. A) Raphia hookeri, the large and massive swamp palm used for palm wine and grub extraction. Here preparation of the palm for wine tapping in Cameroon. B) Local women using Raphia mambillinensis fibers to manufacture hats and baskets in the North West region of Cameroon. C) Fashion hat made out of Raphia fibers; D) Shoes manufactured with Raphia fibers; E) Local music instrument made of Raphia petioles. F) Rhyncophorus grubs sold at the local market. Photos: A, B, E: T Couvreur; C, D: JM Sita (CARD NGO); E: J Muafor (LIFT Asso-ciation).

RAPHIA is funded by Agropolis Foundation and will last two years (2015-2017).

RAPHIA is an interdisciplinary project and as such involves several partners between European and African institutions all providing complementary expertise.

- UMR DIADE, Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD): will lead the project (T Couvreur).

- UMR AMAP, Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD)

- CARD : Cercle d’Assistants en Ressources pour le Développement Durable, Douala, Cameroon

- Université de Yaoundé I, Ecole Normale Supérieure, Yaoundé, Cameroon

- LIFT: Living Forest Trust, Cameroon

- CIFOR: Center for International Forestry Research, International

- MINFOF: Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife, Yaoundé, Cameroon

- Aarhus University, Aarhus, Denmark

- Freie Universität Berlin, Berlin Germany

- Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Kew, United Kingdom

- Future Energy Technologies (FET), Fælledvej, Denmark

List of people involved:

Thomas Couvreur (researcher) IRD
Abdon Awono (Senior researcher) CIFOR
Anders Barfod (researcher) Aarhus University
Anne Blach-Overgaard (post doctorate) Aarhus University
Bonaventure Sonké (Professor) UY1
Frédéric Borne (research engineer) CIRAD
Gaëlle Viennois (research engineer) CNRS
Gilles Dauby (post doctorate) IRD
Grischa Brokamp (post doctorate) FUB
Jean Marie Sita (NGO president) CARD
John Børsting (engineer) FET
John Fogoh Muafor (researcher) MINFOF / LIFT
Joseph Fumtim (communication specialist) IRD
Marie Couderc (technician) IRD
Nicolas Barbier (researcher) IRD
Nora Scarcelli (researcher) IRD
Philippe Le Gall (researcher) IRD
William Baker (researcher) Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

Here is the executive abstract of the project:

It is widely recognized that harvesting of non-timber forest products (NTFPs) plays a central role in reducing poverty and ensuring food security in the tropics. Transformative and interdisciplinary approaches that study current and future of NTFPs socio-economic impact and sustainable harvest are rare, especially in low-income food-deficit countries such as Cameroon. Palms rank as one of the most useful plant families in the tropics providing numerous economic, ecological and societal benefits. The project RAPHIA relies on interdisciplinary and integrated approaches to describe, characterize and model the economic importance and future trends of the most useful but least known of all African palm genera, Raphia. We aim to: 1) Document and quantify the current socio-economic importance of Raphia species in Cameroon; 2) Evaluate the resilience of Raphia species in Cameroon to overharvesting and climate change; and 3) Assess recent innovations for the sustainable harvesting of Raphia species and promote Raphia as an important natural capital in Cameroon.

To achieve these objectives we will:
Compile previous knowledge and collect new data on the taxonomy, uses and trade value of Raphia species in Cameroon.
Analyze value chains and estimate future trends of Raphia species products
Explore spatial genetic structure of selected Raphia species
Evaluate methods to estimate Raphia population sizes and biomass via remote sensing
Model the response of species to future climate change scenarios.
Assess the potential of innovations for sustainable harvesting of Raphia products
Produce a general public documentary on the importance of Raphia in Cameroon
Implement dissemination actions via collaboration with NGOs and local associations

Expected outputs of the project will be:
- Increase knowledge about NTFPs as a tool to fight against poverty / food insecurity in Came-roon and Africa.
- A solid taxonomic framework of Raphia species.
- The general public, professionals and educators gain knowledge about the use and value of Raphia palms, and the importance of natural resource management in Cameroon.
- Understand the threats and resilience of populations to over harvesting, climate change and habitat degradation.
- New innovations in the sustainable harvest of Raphia palm wine and grubs.
- Effective communication between farmers and government officials on questions related to the sustainable harvest of Raphia in Cameroon.
- Submit a large EU Horizon 2020 project of African palm harvest and trade.

- Training of one PhD student and five Master students (North and South) in the fields of taxonomy, economic botany, value chains, remote sensing and/or population genetics.
- Publication of several articles related to the trade, socio-economic value and genetic diversity of Raphia species in Cameroon.
- Host conferences and salons, which will facilitate transfer of knowledge and encourage discussions between local harvesters, farmers, NGO representatives and government officials.
- Review article in an international journal synthesizing useful Raphia raw materials, uses and products as well as an estimate of their relative and absolute economic importance in Cameroon.
- Publication in an international journal on the taxonomy of Raphia.
- An updated Standardized Research Protocol (structured questionnaire and corresponding interview forms) for the study of African palm uses and trade, which will be available for future projects.
- A report that defines indicators of sustainability and describes sustainable practices in Raphia exploitation, as well as strategies that may improve its management and sustainability
- Publication in international journals of several articles on the genetic diversity, past and future impacts of climate change on Raphia species
- Documentary film on the uses and trade of Raphia species in Cameroon
- A dedicated webportal ( with open access data on Raphia taxonomy, uses and media (videos, photos).

RAPHIA will be complementary to several ongoing or recently finished French or international initiatives. RAPHIA provides an ideal framework where knowledge and methods generated in the course of various different projects and continents will be used, underlining a strong transfer of knowledge component.

The project will be managed via three workshops held in Yaoundé and via online tools such as websites and conference calls. A coordination committee will be created. The project will be split into three complementary and interconnected work packages that reflect the general objectives of RAPHIA.

Scratchpads developed and conceived by (alphabetical): Ed Baker, Katherine Bouton Alice Heaton Dimitris Koureas, Laurence Livermore, Dave Roberts, Simon Rycroft, Ben Scott, Vince Smith