The MPTs play a major role in food production in two ways: directly by providing edible products such as fruits, and indirectly by supporting food production through enhancing the soil's ability to support agriculture. A large number of fruit producing trees are integral parts of tradi tional homestead and other agroforestry farming systems with their characteristic multistrata canopies in many developing countries. Although several of these fruit trees have not been studied scientifically and are thus under exploited and little known outside their habitat, they make significant contributions to food and nutritional security.
Another group of underexploited species of immense cultural and economic value are the natural medicinal plants ('medicinals'). In Africa, more than 80% of the population depend on medicinal plants to meet their med ical needs, and about two thirds of the species from which such medicines are derived are trees. While the majority of these tree products are obtained by extraction from natural forests, some 'well known' agroforestry tree species grown on farms for other uses (such as fodder, food, or fuelwood) are also used for their medicinal values. Examples include Acacia nilotica used in India and Africa; Azadirachta indica, the neem tree, used throughout Asia and Africa; Parkia biglobosa (nere or the locust bean tree) used in Africa; and Tamarindus indica, the tamarind tree, used in India and Africa. There is also increasing interest in natural medi cines in the developed world, creating new or expanded markets for these products. This puts further extraction pressure on the natural forests. Many of the medicinal tree species are already overexploited. Some species are so depleted that their gene pools are greatly eroded (e.g., Prunus africana), and some are in danger of extinction.
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