Food security potential of bottle gourd [Lagenaria siceraria (Molina Standly)] landraces : an agronomic perspective.
Issues surrounding food security of rural households in sub-Saharan Africa have become topical in the recent years due to low food production and poverty combined with increasing population which often leads to malnutrition. The marginal nature of agricultural land in these areas, combined with the predicted effects of climate change, challenges the existence of major crops and their potential to ensure food security in future. This has led to renewed efforts to re-instate neglected underutilised species (NUS) such as bottle gourd, because of their likely adaptability to marginal areas of agricultural production. The objective of the study was to evaluate the potential of bottle gourd [Lagenaria siceraria (Molina Standly)] as a future food security crop, focussing on the agronomic perspective. Four separate experiments on seed quality, controlled environment determination of water stress, field trials to determine yield and laboratory determination of nutritional value were conducted. Bottle gourd landraces were compared with two commercial pumpkin cultivars and one cucumber in an effort to benchmark the crop with popular related conventional crops. Seeds of landraces were collected from farmers’ fields and those of commercial varieties were sourced from a local seed company. Results of seed quality showed variability with respect to viability and vigour. Despite this variability, it was found that seed quality of landraces was comparable to that of commercial hybrids. Under controlled environment conditions, for all water treatments, stomatal conductance (SC) was observed to be significantly (P < 0.05) lower in landraces than commercial varieties. This led to the conclusion that landraces demonstrated a characteristic of potentially efficient water use, which might be associated with drought tolerance. Under field conditions, the yield of all varieties was found to be significantly (P < 0.05) higher during summer than winter season. Landraces had higher (P<0.05) yield than hybrid varieties in summer. The results of nutritional analyses revealed that bottle gourd was well endowed with most of the nutrients required for good health. Hybrid varieties contained more (P < 0.05) nutrients than landraces. Although landraces were found to have lower levels of nutrients than hybrids, they were found to contribute significantly higher percentages to Daily Recommended Allowances (RDA). Sequential harvesting showed that the best time to harvest leaves was before the onset of flowering. The study concluded that although bottle gourd landraces were often inferior to hybrids, they remain an important germplasm resource with potential to contribute to future food security in marginal production areas of South Africa.