Harnessing the potential of Baobab to provide Mozambican women with new income opportunities
They are one of the most visually-enthralling trees on the planet. The ancient Baobab – endemic mostly to semi-arid regions of tropical Africa including Mozambique – can live for over 1000 years. Sometimes called the ‘tree of life’, indigenous communities have relied on Baobabs for shelter, food, medicine, clothing and raw materials for generations.
A neglected and under-utilised species
Up until now, there has been no formal trade in Baobab products in Mozambique, aside from women selling the nutrient-rich fruits roadside or in bulk to informal traders for little return. Last year, Bioversity International published a paper that stated, up until more recently, African Baobabs were somewhat of a “neglected and under-utilised species”, with traditional knowledge about the trees’ life-saving properties often lost due to a range of economic, social and cultural reasons.
Women as Baobab harvesters
This is about to change, at least in the Manica Province in Mozambique’s central west, which has been besieged by drought and food security issues. Hundreds of women from four villages – among the regions poorest – are forming a co-operative to harvest Baobab fruits from locally-existing populations. The move is part of a new social enterprise called Baobab Products Mozambique (BPM). BPM is the first company to be given approval to commercially trade the nutrient-rich natural product. From the pulp and seeds it buys from women harvesters, the enterprise will process and sell Baobab powder, as well as other finished products including Maheu, used in drinks and health food products, both nationally and internationally.
An alternative natural income
As well as being paid for their harvest, the women will eventually share a 20 per cent stake in the enterprise. BPM’s Andrew Kingman says while the enterprise is in its infancy, the overall outlook for growth is promising. “We are creating opportunities for women harvesters not only to supply but to share in ownership and development of the business, through the processing and sale of a range of Baobab products.”
At the SEED Africa Symposium in Nairobi, Kenya Baobab Products Mozambique has been honoured with a 2014 SEED Africa Award for their innovative use of natural resources to alleviate poverty and create alternative livelihoods in rural Mozambique. The enterprise is following a vigorous journey to ultimately improve the social and economic circumstances of rural women and their families in the Manica Province and the Baobab trade is expected to bring an alternative seasonal income to these villages and allow communities to better adjust to climate change and food security issues. It seems the natural properties of the Baobab are once again being put to good use, rendering it a not so much neglected and well-utilised species, at least in Mozambique.
Want to know more about Baobab?
Here some fast facts:
- It’s deciduous
- Its fire-resistant trunks are used to make clothing and rope
- Baobabs grow up to 30 metres in height and up to 11 metres in diameter
- They can store up to 125 litres of water in extreme heat
- Baobab fruits are coconut in size
- Pulp and seeds are considered a ‘superfood’ due to high levels of calcium, iron and Vitamin C (three times the content of an orange)
- Leaves and roots are used to treat malaria, fever, dysentery, diarrhoea, asthma and toothaches.