Vil­lagers tap into trend for ‘su­per­food’

China Daily (Canada) - - WORLD -

MUTALE, South Africa — From be­fore dawn, 54-yearold grand­mother An­nah Mu­vhali weaves be­tween baobab trees that loom over her ru­ral South African home, col­lect­ing fruit that en­thu­si­asts world­wide hail as a “su­per­food”.

About 1,000 women in the vil­lage of Mus­wodi Dipeni, in the north­ern prov­ince of Lim­popo, earn a liv­ing by har­vest­ing the furry, hard­shelled baobab fruit pods.

The seeds and chalky pow­der in­side the pods have be­come a global health craze cel­e­brated for their vi­ta­m­in­packed prop­er­ties and now used in ev­ery­thing from fla­vored soda, ice cream and choco­late to gin and cos­met­ics.

“Be­fore, I never knew there was any value in baobab. My fam­ily and I would eat the fruit sim­ply be­cause it makes a de­li­cious yo­ghurt-like por­ridge that is nu­tri­tious and fill­ing,” Mu­vhali said.

“I al­ways use it for my grand­chil­dren when their stom­achs are trou­ble­some.”

Known lo­cally as “baobab guardians”, women like Mu­vhali also plant and nur­ture baobab saplings in their gar­dens and earn an in­come for each cen­time­ter that the trees grow.

Hav­ing started in 2006, the grand­mother of five has since been able to build a house for her two chil­dren and grand­chil­dren from her earn­ings.

Elisa Phaswana, 59, has been nur­tur­ing a sin­gle 1me­ter-high sapling — pro­tected from goats by a makeshift fence — for the past two years.

She said the baobab guardian pro­gram had al­le­vi­ated poverty in the com­mu­nity.

“It helps the en­vi­ron­ment and it helps us es­pe­cially be­cause there is lit­tle to no work for us and our chil­dren in our vil­lage. I get about R320 ($21) per cen­time­ter.”

Sarah Ven­ter, an ecol­o­gist who runs the Eco­prod­ucts com­pany be­hind the baobab cul­ti­va­tion, said the scheme re­warded women for their skills and care.

“They get paid a cer­tain amount un­til the tree reaches 3 me­ters high and after that it will live for 1,000 years.

“It has a value chain where every­body ben­e­fits, in­clud­ing a ru­ral per­son pick­ing up some­thing that’s al­ready in their en­vi­ron­ment and get­ting an in­come for it,” Ven­ter said.

“If we are lucky enough as an in­dus­try to get to a point where de­mand ex­ceeds sup­ply, prices will go up and ru­ral pro­duc­ers will get more for what they col­lect.”

Ven­ter said de­mand for baobab pow­der has zoomed every year since 2013, with Europe, the United States, and Canada now the big­gest con­sumer mar­kets.

Es­ti­mates by the African Baobab Al­liance show that baobab pow­der ex­ports grew to 450 tons in 2017.

Baobab Foods, a lead­ing dis­trib­u­tor and sup­plier, has seen an ex­plod­ing growth in de­mand for baobab prod­ucts in re­cent years.

“In 2018, we have more than dou­bled our an­nual im­ports of baobab fruit pow­der into the US alone,” it said in a state­ment.

The tree can take up to 200 years to bear fruit, but wa­ter­ing them every day can see that time re­duced to 30 years. A tree then pro­duces fruit an­nu­ally for nearly 200 years.

“Baobab is one of the high­est vi­ta­min C con­tain­ing fruits. There’s nat­u­ral an­tiox­i­dants, some vi­ta­min E and var­i­ous plant com­pounds which have anti-in­flam­ma­tory and an­tiox­i­dant uses,” said Jean Fran­cois So­biecki, a nu­tri­tion­ist.

“It has got a re­ally good com­bi­na­tion of nat­u­ral vi­ta­mins, an­tiox­i­dants, pro­tein and also heal­ing sub­stances which all to­gether makes it an in­cred­i­ble su­per­food.”

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