The concept of domesticating crops and livestock have existed for thousands of years, however their application to tropical trees for timber and non-timber products is very recent. Basically the objective is to make them more useful to mankind by cultivation and genetic improvement. Domestication by conventional approaches to tree breeding is very slow. The advent of reliable and robust techniques of vegetative propagation have however opened up much faster approaches based on the development of clonal cultivars.
Before using vegetative propagation to mass produce a selected individual tree with superior characteristics, it is necessary to characterize the variation found within a species and then to capture the phenotype. Numerous characterization studies have identified that even within a particular population there is very considerable (3- to 20-fold) variation in different morphological traits, as well as similar variation in the chemical and physical characteristics of the product. There is therefore potential to rapidly develop cultivars that are very much better than average. The greatest potential lies in multi-trait selection aimed at particular market opportunities. As a result it is necessary to identify trees with the ideal combination of important traits – ‘ideotypes’.
In agroforestry, the producers are generally smallholder producers in developing countries where the outputs of domestication are urgently needed , the approach to domestication has been to work directly with the farmers so that they can implement the domestication programme to meet their specific needs and so that they are the beneficiaries of the work. This is called Participatory Domestication.
To ensure the wise use of genetic resources and the optimum benefit flows to producers it is important to practice a wise domestication strategy that protects and conserves genetic diversity while maximizing the benefits for mankind. Because there is no point in developing domesticated cultivars if the producer is unable to market the products, it is also critical that the strategies used ensure that domestication and commercialization proceed in parallel.
See: Leakey, R.R.B., Tchoundjeu, Z., Schreckenberg, K., Shackleton, S. and Shackleton, C. 2005. Agroforestry Tree Products (AFTPs): Targeting Poverty Reduction and Enhanced Livelihoods. International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability 3: 1-23.