Dotting the fields and gardens of several farmers in the Bois Jolie community are small wooden stakes with yellow and red tags tied to them. They are labeled inconspicuously with a series of letters and numbers, CK-##-#. Below each of these stakes is a seed, and within each seed is an interesting history and an exciting potential.
Long ago, Mayans planted these exacts same seeds, which have now come to bear the namesake of their original cultivators as “Mayanut”, although it goes by many other names. The scientific name is Brosimum alicastrum, and the Kreyol name is Chokogou (hence the CK on the tags). The seed, after germination and maturing over several years, produces a small orange-like fruit, with a large seed in the middle. The fruit can be consumed raw, but the real treasure is the seed. When boiled, the seed tastes like potato or boiled peanuts, and when roasted into a powder and consumed as a drink it tastes like a blend of coffee and chocolate. The nutrition of the seeds is impressive too, and they are rich in fiber, calcium, magnesium, potassium, folate, and antioxidants.
I came across Chokogou last spring when I was researching multi-purpose trees used in agroforestry systems. The tree is being used in multiple reforestation projects in South and Central American countries, and a project was very recently started in Haiti by the Mayanut Institute. I excitedly reached out to their director and began conversing about the potentials of the tree and the possibility of using it in our own reforestation project. The trees diverse uses as a food, fodder, and timber source, as well as its drought resiliency, seemed like an excellent tree to try introducing into the Zanmi Kafe project as a shade tree and additional income source.
However, the Haiti Mayanut program was unable to share any seeds with us, and it was not until a year later, after reaching out again, did the Institute direct me to a source for us to buy seeds. Immediately we reached out to an experimental botanical institute in Florida and convinced them to overlook their maximum limit of twenty-five seeds per order.
A week later, I was on a plane with the rest of the research team and a small brown bag of 100 chokogou seeds. At our next community meeting with the Bois Jolie farmers, we announced our plan to plant some trial seeds on the farms of a select group of Zanmi Kafe participants. Since we had so few seeds, we had to be choosy with where they went. Despite not knowing anything about the tree (it is not being produced in large quantities anywhere nearby in Haiti), the farmers curiosity was piqued, and I was constantly hearing the word “Chokogou” in their chatter at that meeting and the ones that followed.
Since then we have planted almost half of the seeds at different farms, as well as on the more controlled experimental fields at CFFL. Every time I watch a farmer drop one of the seeds into a small freshly dug hole, I feel my anticipation growing. I am full of questions about the plant myself – will I be lucky enough to see some of the seeds germinate before leaving (the estimated time for germination is thirty days)? What will be the survival rates of the trees? How long will the farmers have to wait for them to fruit? What will their first reaction to the tastes of the fruit and seed be? I am saddened by the fact that this point in time will be long after I graduate, but the prospect of even a small successful planting is enough to keep me excited about each seed we bury in the earth.