In Zimbabwe, the fruit of the Muchakata tree is saving thousands from starvation in rural areas. Many villagers now rely on the golden colored fruit to survive. Voice of America English to Africa Service reporter Safari Njema spoke to residents of Chihota village, who are creating interesting recipes from the tree.

In the days of plentiful crops and economic prosperity, the Muchakata tree ? which is dotted across parts of Chihota -- was often ignored.

The evergreen tree can grow up to 10 meters in height and produces golden fruit which gives off a rich alluring scent detectable from a distance

For a long time the fruit was considered a staple of the poor, used in feed for donkeys. But the economic downturn and hyperinflationary environment has resulted in a major turnaround in how the tree and its fruit are perceived.

Maikoro Chikwangu is over 80 years old and lives in Mhizha village. Leaning on a walking stick, the gray-haired man has to take care of his wife and grandchild. He says people wake up at the break of dawn to gather the fruit in large sacks and buckets.

"There are three wild fruit tree species that have served the people well, such as the mukute, the mutamba and the muchakata. With regards to the muchakata, people have now learned how to make porridge, buns and bread. You do not need to add sugar to these recipes because the fruit is naturally sweet."

But 52-year-old Steven Jaricha from Mutenda says the Muchakata is a protected species. He warns anyone caught chopping it down is punished severely by the local chief.

Jaricha adds some villagers have begun brewing beer or making jam, which they're selling to townsfolk. He says many villagers spend their time crushing the fruit, "They brew beer apart from making porridge. They take those fruits and crush them, then they will refine it into some form of mealie meal, and then porridge."

He adds the Muchakata also has spiritual value especially for Shonas, who've been conducting rituals under the wonder tree for generations.

He says post-marriage ceremonies and important family gatherings are marked by prayers under the so-called wonder tree, "By the time that we grew up, our fathers used to tell us that trees such as the muchakata are culturally important in the sense that [they are linked to] spirits.  Unfortunately this has been diluted by the coming of Christianity."

80-year-old Margaret Kugutarinda, from Samuriwo village, says she's been amazed by locals' ingenuity. She says poverty has forced many to find creative means to survive.

But she complains she can no longer go into the forest to gather the fruit:

"It is true that many are surviving from the muchakata,  but people like me are in a big fix.  I look after some aids orphans, and I can not buy anything in the shops because they are almost empty and money does not  buy much. I am not sure whether the government still remembers that there are people like us who have nothing to fall back on." 

However, Kugutarinda, a grandmother, says she's delighted at least some are feeding their families.