Sustainable Incomes for Rural Communities
The Baobab tree grows in dry regions of sub-Saharan Africa which are generally less agriculturally productive due to their meagre soils and risk of drought. These harsh environmental conditions make the poorest communities in these areas particularly vulnerable. Growing vegetables or crops during a drought is hardly possible at all and aside from agricultural production these communities do not have many opportunities to generate income. This makes the trade in Baobab Fruit especially handy. Unlike cotton or other capital and resource intensive agricultural products, the Baobab tree is a frugal contemporary and is able to survive completely naturally - despite its size - on very little water and nutrients. Also harvesting Baobab fruit requires no additional labour input, expensive technical equipment or capital. Only the workforce of collectors and their time is needed to collect the fruit.
In the poorer regions of Zimbabwe and South Africa, it is mainly women who benefit from the additional income through Baobab. Often they are responsible for taking care of their children because they are either single parents or the men cannot live with their families due to working obligations elsewhere. The extra income allows them to pay for school fees, additional food or household items.
Fair Pricing and Organic Certification
We buy Baobab Fruit in rural areas, organize transport, extract the fruit powder and engage in international trade. We are committed to improving the situation of people in the poorer regions of Zimbabwe and South Africa. We have ensured that our collection areas have received organic certification. This is beneficial for the marketing aspects of products and pays out for the farmers in other ways as well. The organic certification does not refer specifically to the Baobab trees themselves, but rather to the land on which the trees grow on. This means that once that land is certified, other products such as vegetables or other wild fruit can be grown and sold by local communities as organic produce.
However, harvesters must adhere to strict certification criteria, otherwise they lose the certificate. In order to meet the requirements for certification and to benefit most from it, we organise regular trainings and workshops for registered smallholder farmers and collectors.
Our harvesters have formed cooperatives which allow them better negotiating positions for the prices of their products. We guarantee all our harvesters a minimum price as a safety net to shield them from any downward fluctuations in “normal” market prices which may occasionally fall below the minimum price. Upon selling their product the fruit collectors also receive additional premium funds which they can use for community investments such as kindergartens, community halls, hospitals or the like.
Over many years we have gained well-grounded knowledge regarding the protection and propagation of Baobab trees. In our view, the most effective approach is to guard baobab seeds that have germinated naturally on the spot. Unfortunately, in densely populated areas the young trees do not stand a chance to reach maturity because they are constantly exposed to browsing goats and cattle. To make sure that the trees survive their first years, they need protection which could be provided by the local population.
Ensuring the survival of Baobabs needs an integrated approach; one which incorporates both human needs and environmental variables. So with this in mind EcoProducts launched the Baobab Guardians Programme – a unique tree-planting program. Our simple aim is to plant more Baobab trees in our collection areas of Venda (northern South Africa) where climate change and livestock is affecting the survival of young Baobabs. It will do this by involving rural women fruit collectors and creating awareness of Baobab ecology and conservation.
The EcoProducts Baobab Pre-school Programme began as a South African initiative identifying under-resourced pre-schools in the areas where our Baobab harvesters live. The support that is given is unique to each pre-school and is determined by their individual needs. Examples of support include:
Training the carers (teachers) in early childhood development.
Providing educational toys, jungle gyms and swings.
Helping improve the infrastructure of the premises.
Supplying nutritional non-perishable food.
Under the programme, EcoProducts has partnered with the Sumbandila Trust who has been involved in educating rural children in under-privileged schools since 2007. They have extended their educational programmes to include early childhood development (ECD). Sumbandila provides mentors to the carers (teachers) of each of the pre-schools.