Species name
Dobera glabra1(Forssk.) Poir.1


Local name(s)
Karsatta (Konsogna), Garsa (Afargna), Domaye (Gamogna), Garas, Haras (Somalgna), Geresa (Tigrigna)

General description
It is an much branched evergreen shrub or tree up to 8m. The bark is green to dark grey and patchy. Leaves are opposite, yellow to grey-green, thick, smooth, veins hardly seen, up to 7cm long, tip usually notched. Flowers are small and white in colour. Fruits are ovoid to 2cm, with 1 - 2 flat seeds. Paradoxically it produces better and more seeds in dry spell (under moisture stress conditions) than in normal times.

Special feature: Drought indicator
Farmers and pastoralists in southern Ethiopia and Afar Region alike recognize a number of indigenous so-called drought indicator plants. In the lowlands of Konso Special Woreda, along the Segen River, Dobera glabra is one such typical drought indicator. New shoots always grow during the dry season. If rains are delayed or fail, the tree typically shows an enhanced production of new shoots, fruits and seeds. Local Konso people observed a significant Dobera glabra fruit production increase during the last four years (1996-1999) coinciding with the climatic dry spell. Farmers revealed that in normal times, when rains are on time or abundant, Dobera glabra does not produce much fruit and seed. When the tree is blooming abundantly, Konso people fear that a drought may very well be under way and hence, food may become scarce. Besides its drought indicator qualities, Dobera glabra produces edible fruits and the seed is considered a typical 'famine-food'.

Edible part(s), preparation methods and palatability
Fruit contains two green cotyledons, which are consumed after cooking. Before consumption the cover of the fruit is removed and seeds are washed thoroughly with ash. Usually consumed mixed with other foodstuff like boiled maize. The fruits of Dobera glabra are edible and the kernel is considered a typical famine food. It has to be cooked for a long time, i.e. up to 24 hours, and it produces a bad smell. According to farmers interviewed, excessive consumption causes stomachaches and other intestinal problems.

A shrub that grows in dry areas, on saline, heavy, or calcareous loam soils and on rocky hillsides. It grows abundantly in dry and moist lowland areas (400 - 1,300m).

Propagation method(s) 
Propagates by seeds, direct sowing and wildlings.

Sample location(s)
(1) Jarso Kebele, Konso; (2) Zone 4 & 5 of Afar Region

In Konso reportedly, due to intensive deforestation activities the density of the plant is diminishing and is hardly available other than in the environs of Segen riverbanks. It is also used as a shade tree in the lowlands.

In Afar Region Dobera glabra tree is abundantly found in Zone 4 and Zone 5 and can easily be recognised in times of drought because of its deep green colour, which stands out in the otherwise uniform grey-kaki coloured dusty arid landscape (see picture below). The settlement at the branch-off from the Mile-Bati road to Zone 5 and Zone 4 is called 'Garsa Gita', which means 'the place where 'Garsa' trees are found'. Afar pastoralists have a proverb saying: 'the one who finds 'Garsa' is lucky and will not suffer'. Finding a 'Garsa' tree in times of drought is a good sign for somebody suffering from hunger, because he knows he will survive. At several occasions, when interviewing Afar people during dry spell periods near water points and questioning them about wild food consumption, they immediately mentioned and also presented samples of cooked or fresh fruits of Dobera glabra, which indicates that people are consuming the seed. 

1Parts of the following description have been taken from Bekele-Tesemma et al., 1993: p. 194/195

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Dobera glabra tree near Segen River, Konso

Dobera glabra branch with fruits and flowers

Dobera glabra tree species in Afar bushland (Zone 4) near Garsa Gita village. The trees can easily be spotted during the dry season due to their intense dark green colour.