The remarkable Baobab tree

The mighty African baobab (Adansonia digitata ) can live for thousands of years and is an important source of food, shelter and medicine for humans and other animals. Its velvety green fruits grow from huge waxy white flowers that are pollinated by bats and when ripe, contain smooth black seeds covered in a pale powder that tastes sharp and tangy. 

Baobab fruit powder, rich in Vitamin C, calcium and anti-oxidants, is used to make delicious food and drinks. African people have been eating it for centuries – it is said to be a boost to health, especially for pregnant women, children and the elderly, and also to help fight fevers and settle the stomach.

In Africa, the tree has many other uses. The nutrient-rich leaves and young seedlings are also eaten, people chew the wood to obtain water in times of drought, the flowers make great honey, the wood is used for fuel and timber and the trunk for storing water. The trees are drought-, termite- and fire-resistant. If stripped of their bark, they simply grow some more and carry on growing. When they eventually die, they rot from the inside and suddenly collapse.

How our scheme helps people

Our baobab is harvested and bought from rural harvester groups in Malawi providing an income for people like Esther, who can now afford to send her children to school - read her story below. In addition some money goes to our friends at PhytoTrade Africa, who help support rural harvesters and producers across southern Africa.

A baobab harvester's story

Esther Kansaka is a fisherwoman with four young kids. She used to trade the fish she caught in Lake Malawi at the local market, and was just about able to meet the global poverty line with her income of US$100 per year - barely enough to keep her head above water.

In 2012, all that changed. Esther and her husband were able to increase their income ten-fold through the organic and sustainable trade in baobab fruit facilitated through TreeCrops – Malawi’s baobab producer and member of PhytoTrade Africa – southern Africa’s trade association for natural products.

Esther says: 'To tell you the truth, we could not bear the stress of being caught in a trap of poverty any more. Never being able to get enough money to plan for a decent future for our family. This year we earned US$1,100 from baobab. It's more money than we ever dreamed of.

'What will we spend it on? Some of the money we will save for the future, but mostly we are using it for day-to-day necessities such as school fees and visits to the doctor. In our village, we have used the extra money from Baobab to buy bicycle ambulances so the sick and elderly don’t have to walk far to the clinic. In a few years time, we hope we can build our very own clinic with the money from baobab.

I am still able to fish in the Lake when it's not baobab season but it’s more of a hobby now. For my family, baobab makes the future look bright.'

 

Image credit: Phytotrade Africa

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