Umthombo 2 - Page 37

been used for prisons, toilets, ritual sites
and venues for prayer.
Over the past few years, however,
the allure of the baobab tree has
reached far beyond these immediate
communities. As demand for novel
natural products grows, so does the drive
for commercialisation and the need to
regulate access.
“Baobab fruit is now recognised as
a novel food in the European Union,”
explains Kozanayi’s supervisor Professor
Rachel Wynberg, South African Research
Chair in Bio-Economy at UCT (funded
by the Department of Science and
Technology and the National Research
“Governments are increasingly
interested in pursuing biodiversitybased economies and in regulating their
use, yet this can also lead to negative
consequences for resource custodians.”
Benefits of
The commercialisation of baobab
products holds great promise of
entrepreneurship and financial gain for
local communities. Most baobab-related
industries centre around harvesting and
processing the fruit, seeds and bark.
Baobab fruits are sold whole in urban
areas or processed into pulp for which
confectionery companies are the main
market. Oil is extracted from baobab
seeds and exported for use in the
cosmetics industry, and local residents
have been making crafts with the fibrous
bark and exporting them to South Africa
since the 1990s.
Kozanayi’s research suggests that
some households in Nyanyadzi, one of
the wards he studied, make between
US$350 and US$1 500 per year
from their involvement with baobabrelated projects. The tree’s products
are regarded as the most significant
contributor to livelihoods in many
The challenges of
Despite these promising figures, the
relatively sudden commercialisation
of baobab products has brought on a
crisis of a different sort: implementing
effective regulation and governance of
this resource.
Throughout their history, communities
have relied on strong customary
systems to regulate and protect
baobabs. However, with the increasing
commercialisation of baobab products
has come an increasing drive to formalise
their management.
In some
cases, baobabs
have been used for
prisons, toilets,
ritual sites and
venues for prayer.
“Formalisation of baobab governance
is driven mainly by the state to ensure
ecological sustainability,” explains
Shifting the management of baobab
resources from traditional leaders
to the state has led to disregard for
local practices and other negative
“This is problematic, as
evidence on the ground shows
that local people do care about
the baobab tree which is central to
their livelihoods, history and culture,”
he says. “Without access to natural
resources, local people’s livelihoods are
compromised and they are forced to use
a range of overt and covert means to
regain access.”
The consequences of excessive state
regulation include women opting out of
the export businesses due to malaitshas
– informal cross-border transporters
– often demanding sexual favours for
facilitating the illegal movement of
products. Traders engage malaitshas to
circumvent the stringent permit system
at the border.
Is there a solution?
As is often the case with the
commercialisation of age-old resources,
the successful governance of baobabs
in the Chimanimani District requires
a hybrid of solutions from both the
traditional and government sector.
Statutory forms of governance can be
introduced to assist customary practices
on a demand-driven basis.
Kozanayi argues that due to their
proximity to the resource base,
traditional leaders are often better
placed than the government to be the
first line of contact. Simultaneously, the
onus is on the state to devote more
resources to the management of the
baobab tree.
Ultimately, the commercialisation of
baobab products can either herald a
renewed drive to protect these iconic
African trees and the communities whose
livelihoods are intertwined with them – or
lead to their demise. The outcome will
depend on how successfully this precious
resource is governed and if compromises
can be reached.
u mth om bo

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