Plant Resources of Tropical Africa
Plant Resources of Tropical Africa, known by its acronym PROTA, is an international programme concerned with making scientific information about utility plants accessible in Africa, supporting their sustainable use to reduce poverty.
PROTA’s stated mission is to synthesise all the information available for approximately 8,000 plants used in tropical Africa, and make it widely accessible in various media. In other words, PROTA is dedicated to make the lesser-known useful biodiversity of tropical Africa better known. PROTA also intends to promote opportunities for the sustainable use of plants to the public and private sectors, making a difference to the people whose livelihoods depend on plants.
How PROTA works
The programme operates through an international network of institutional partners and collaborators of the PROTA Foundation, and has representatives in 20 African countries. Unfortunately, the programme had to stop in 2013 due to fund shortage. The website Prota4U is still active (on a new server), and all the information has been duplicated on PROTA Pl@ntUse.
The PROTA Handbook is an illustrated encyclopaedia of utility plant species found in Tropical Africa. The species reviews contained in each volume are available on CD-ROM, and for free from PROTA online. PROTA plans to publish review articles on some 8,000 plants.
The PROTA Handbook is unusual because it is compiled as much from obscure publications as it is from peer-reviewed and popular literature, gathered throughout Africa and Europe. Species review articles are written by authors from around the world, and cover a range of information. A book review of PROTA 3: Dyes and tannins noted that "the information contained in this volume highlights a number of lesser known species, and is a rich source of interesting information for anyone working at the interface of ethnobotany and domestication, and as such is a must have."
Apart from PROTA 3: Dyes and tannins, publications are present in English and French, on Cereals and pulses (2006), Vegetables (2004), Fibres (2005), Timbers 1 (2008), Timbers 2 (2012), Medicinal plants 1 (2008), Medicinal plants 2 (2013) and Vegetable oils (2007).
Stakeholder consultations have been held over the past five years for all the six completed commodity groups, and have led to six ‘PROTA recommends…’ series booklets from which universities can pick ideas for interesting thesis subjects, national governments can find information on the endangered plant species on their territories conservation, and rural development agencies can get ideas for agricultural diversification.
To celebrate the first 10 years of PROTA two publications came out in 2010. The first publication is called Promising African plants  and presents 3 examples of species which have been rediscovered by small-holders successfully, and 22 species, which were not selected for pilot projects, but which are promising or interesting and should be promoted for research resulting in improved product quality and market strategies.
The second publication is called Updated list of species and commodity grouping / Liste actualisée des espèces et de leurs groupes d'usage  and is a much expanded version of the first checklist made in 2002, incorporating data from 10 years of editing work for the PROTA information system.
The structure of the new PROTA web database PROTA4U has been developed in the course of 2009. It is a combination of PROTA’s highly standardized expert-validated review articles (PROTAbase) and yet-to-be-validated ‘starter kits’ for all other useful plants. These ‘starter kits’ are pre-filled with basic information from PROTA’s databases SPECIESLIST (important synonyms, uses, basic sources of information) and AFRIREFS (‘grey’ literature).
Furthermore, the records contain the results of a meta-analysis from a large collection of agricultural and botanical databases, conducted successfully in cooperation with the ICON Group International. The websites, which allowed their databases to be harvested, are properly acknowledged in the ‘starter kits’.
Although the layout and search options of PROTA4U will still need some fine-tuning, we are confident that the data collected will help to facilitate and speed up the validation process, and also will make the information system more dynamic and subject to a continuous updating process. ‘Comments’ fields in both validated review articles and ‘starter kit’ records will allow visitors to add remarks and improvements to the existing texts.
The possibilities of this interactive database and its derived applications are enormous, both for its current audience of researchers and other agricultural experts, but also for farmers, who will have access to mobile phone versions of PROTA materials, enhanced with assisted reading. In the near future we will make available a list of species playing a role in the climate change, through the star-rating system.
In collaboration with grassroots organizations, eight pilot projects – six on vegetables and two on dyes and tannins – have been implemented in Kenya, Madagascar, Burkina Faso, Benin and Ghana. It has been a learning process for PROTA and not all pilots were equally successful. However, the Farmer Field Schools in Kenya successfully tried out some ‘forgotten’ vegetables like the spider plant (Cleome gynandra). The dye sorghum pilot in Benin was so interesting and promising that it is presently being scaled up to address a number of socio-economic and agronomic issues. In all, it is estimated that about 800 farmers, craftsmen and processors benefited directly from the projects, whereas much larger numbers were reached through field days and demonstrations.
Impact monitoring & evaluation
Clients in action
To gain insight in the process through which PROTA information impacts on the agricultural development process in tropical Africa, questionnaires were sent to all those who had acquired PROTA books through the CTA credit point system. The number of respondents was highest in Nigeria and Ethiopia. Analysis of the answers made clear that PROTA information is used at all levels of agricultural development, in policy making and research, in higher education and vocational training, and by extension workers and farmers. The most exciting results from the questionnaires were the concrete examples of use of PROTA information: clients in action ! To obtain more detail on specific cases, it was decided to follow-up the questionnaires through personal interviews with respondents in Nigeria and Ethiopia in 2009. Main conclusions of the mission were:
• PROTA succeeds in providing access to comprehensive information on plant resources to a wide range of direct target users.
• PROTA has contributed to capacity building of agricultural extension workers, farmers, subject matter specialists, and NGO workers by positively influencing the content of training manuals.
• By the respondents alone, a total of 9,200 farmers and 246 extension agents were trained in Nigeria and Ethiopia using PROTA information.
• Adoption of improved technologies contributed to increased production by farmers. Farmers in Nigeria e.g. reported increased yields of maize, cowpeas, and vegetables.
• Income generating opportunities have improved for thousands of farmers who adopted promising species and technologies promoted by PROTA.
• PROTA information has been used in preparing proposals for development projects, many of them being accepted for funding, and many resulting in partnerships between organizations.
• PROTA publications have become a reliable reference for researchers. The books are cited by many authors in their scientific papers.
• Impact in the area of policy development became apparent in Ethiopia, where a consultant prepared Crop Protection Policy Reviews using PROTA information and using a PROTA-inspired format.
• PROTA has succeeded to increase the interest of students in plant resources research and to improve on the quality of students’ research. Over 5,000 students in Nigeria and Ethiopia have been taught by respondents alone, using PROTA information.
Training of trainers in e-resources
ITOCA (Information, Training and Outreach Centre for Africa) assisted PROTA in 2009 to promote the use of PROTA resources in Sub-Saharan Africa through programme advocacy, training, marketing and support activities aimed at the research and academic communities in the region.
ITOCA developed and field-tested suitable course training modules for the PROTA web database, and conducted 3-4 day workshops on PROTA resources together with complementing e-resources databases: TEEAL (The Essential Electronic Agricultural Library), AGORA (Access to Global Online Research in Agriculture), HINARI (Health Internetwork Access Research Initiative) and OARE (Online Access Research in Environment).
PROTA resources were also promoted through ITOCA’s websites, Research4Life Africa User forum broadcasts, demonstrations and booth displays and presentations at conferences and newsletter articles to encourage utilization and adoption of the resource. A user support help-desk for the region was also established.
- Tropical Africa
- Ecology of Africa
- International Tropical Timber Organization
- Natural environment
- Climate change
- CTA (credit point system)
- Siemonsma, J. & Omino, E., 2003. PROTA State of the art. Pp. 90-100. In: Schmelzer, G.H. & Omino, E.A. Proceedings of the First PROTA International Workshop, 23–25 September 2002, Nairobi, Kenya. Plant Resources of Tropical Africa, Wageningen, the Netherlands.
- Van Damme, P., 2006. Book review - Plant Resources of Tropical Africa 3: Dyes and tannins. Economic Botany 60: 296-306.
- PROTA, 2010. Plant Resources of Tropical Africa. Promising African plants. A selection from the PROTA programme. PROTA Foundation, Wageningen, Netherlands / CTA, Wageningen, Netherlands. 169 pp.
- PROTA, 2010. Plant Resources of Tropical Africa. Updated list of species and commodity grouping / Liste actualisée des espèces et de leurs groupes d'usage. A selection from the PROTA programme. PROTA Foundation, Wageningen, Netherlands / CTA, Wageningen, Netherlands. 391 pp.
- Gomba, Joash (2010). "Authoring and editing of articles made simple". Prota.co.ke. PROTA: Plant Resources of Tropical Africa. Archived from the original on 2011-01-25. Retrieved 2011-01-26.
- PROTA Foundation, 2009. Annual Report. Ten years PROTA. Ponsen & Looijen, Ede, Netherlands.