Tropical Africa is home to about 30,000-35,000 higher plant species, an estimated 7000 of which are used by man in many different ways. Information about these useful plants is dispersed over several hundred thousands of different publications. Due to Internet access and good library facilities in the developed world, it is often easier for researchers, lecturers or industry in the North to find publications on African plants than it is for researchers, lecturers or extension workers in Africa itself.
Plant Resources of Tropical Africa (PROTA) is a collaborative effort involving African and European scientists working at 10 research institutions (seven in Africa, three in Europe) to bring information on African plants into the public domain. PROTA will result in a collection of about 7000 standardized, illustrated review articles at the species level, in English and French, covering all aspects of existing knowledge - botany, geography, utilization, trade, properties, ecology, cultivation, management, improvement and conservation.
The PROTA collection will be made available through a freely accessible online database, and a series of books and accompanying CD-ROMs (in English and French). For the book and CD-ROM series, the 7000 useful plants are subdivided into 16 commodity groups, including 'cereals and pulses', 'vegetables', 'dyes and tannins', 'forage crops', 'fruits', 'timber' and 'medicinal plants'.
The collection of information on the first commodity group - African vegetables - was completed late 2004, and includes 275 review articles that can be accessed via the Internet. The print and CD-ROM versions (published by Backhuys Publishers, Leiden, the Netherlands, are available to users in ACP countries from CTA at a reduced price.
PROTA cooperates with PROSEA (Plant Resources of South-East Asia), an initiative to bring up to date outdated information on thousands of useful plants in Indonesia. Both projects receive core funding from the government of the Netherlands. It is hoped that PROSEA and PROTA will be followed by PROLAC (Plant Resources of Latin America and the Caribbean). Thus a standardized synthesis of knowledge of 25,000 useful tropical plants will soon be within the reach of all researchers in ACP countries.
Jan Siemonsma is head of the PROTA Network Office Europe at Wageningen University, the Netherlands.
CTA Publications catalogue, Supplement 2004 (pdf, 195Kb)