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Agriculture is the biggest contributor to Mozambique’s economy with an average 4 percent according to the country’s National Statistics Institute.

Locally known as malambe, baobab is native to Africa, and do the dry African savannah in many sub-Saharan African countries. They can live for more than a thousand years, but take approximately 16 to 23 years to mature and produce flowers and subsequently fruits.

Unlike other cash crops like coffee or cocoa, baobab is not a plantation crop. The trees take so long to mature that farmers rely largely on harvesting fruit from existing trees. Instead, baobab is wild harvested and collected by hand by local villagers, with one tree producing around 1,500 baobab fruits per year.

Baobab is a multi-purpose tree, and the fruit pulp, seeds, leaves, flowers, roots, and bark are all edible. It’s rich in vitamin C, phosphorus, calcium, fibre, carbohydrates, protein, potassium, and fats.

The fruit is processed to make powder, which is the main ingredient wanted on the European and American markets. Local people have little knowledge of the value of baobab on the international market, as there is a lack of business orientation and awareness of potential buyers.

But now, women from poor communities in the Mozambican districts of Guro and Tambara in central Manica province and Changara in western Tete province are collecting baobab fruits and selling them to a nearby processing company called Baobab Productions Mozambique or BPM that exports the pulp to Europe and USA.

If you want to produce a program on baobab or other products which are collected from the wild, you may wish to draw inspiration from this text. If you choose to present this radio script as part of your farming program, you can use voices to represent the people interviewed in this case. In this case, please tell your audience at the very beginning of the program that the voices are those of actors and not of the actual participants.

If you want to air programs on a similar topic, talk to people who collect wild produce, processors, traders, exporters, and others in the value chain.

You may wish to ask them the following questions, among others:

  • Who collects, transports, processes, and markets the product? Which of these groups receive good profits for their work? Why or why not?
  • What are the challenges associated with each link in the value chain and how can these be addressed?
  • What roles do women play in the value chain, and are these roles fairly remunerated? If not, what can be done to improve the situation for women?

Estimated duration with music, intro and extro, is 25 minutes.

Script

HOST:
Until recently, baobab fruits were only used locally in Mozambique, but a small network of collectors, processors, and suppliers has elevated the fruit’s profile abroad.

The director of Baobab Mozambique Products, Andrew Kingman, says his company’s establishment in Tambara and Guro districts has started to bring in much-needed revenue for the mostly poor communities in that area.

Mr. Kingman, I would like to start by welcoming you and thanking you for speaking with us today. Today, our focus is the baobab value chain and what your company is doing in Tambara and Guro districts.

ANDREW KINGMAN:
We are primarily based in Chimoio, in Manica province. As you know, baobab is a resource that is in the centre and many parts of the north and has been used by local people for millennia. The fruit itself is incredibly healthy. The pulp within the fruit is rich in vitamin C and calcium. So children or old people have been given pulp, often because it’s easy to digest and extremely healthy.

In about the year 2000, various companies in Europe started to look at commercializing it.

There has been an informal value chain in Mozambique. For decades, traders from Malawi, Zimbabwe, and to a certain extent, Maputo, Beira, and Tete travelled to the communities and bought the pulp from women collectors.

These women typically find the fruits on the ground or use long sticks to remove them from the trees, then crack the fruit, open, remove the pulp, and place it in a sack.

They took it back to the village and loaded the sacks onto the trucks of visiting traders, who paid them a pittance, just a few coins for a big amount of pulp. The women knew nothing about the value chain, they knew nothing about where the pulp went, what the product was used for, or what the end price was. And these traders have benefited from that ignorance for decades.

Our company, Baobab Products Mozambique, was established to find opportunities to change the way local baobab suppliers are treated, and to ensure they could get a better deal from the value chain. We started working in northern Manica province in 2012.

We did some research internationally and we quickly identified that there was a growing international market. So we set up our own company in 2015 to commercialize the product and promote the value chain.

When we started, the first thing we did was multiply the price paid to collectors by four. And we’ve kept that commitment.

HOST:
What economic changes did your operations in Manica bring?

ANDREW KINGMAN:
When we started, we didn’t have a market. We knew that baobab would primarily be an export product, but we wanted to sell it nationally as well. So from 2017, we’ve been selling baobab powder on the national market.

In the early years, we had maybe 1,920 women supplying us, and we bought maybe 100 or 150 tonnes of fruit. Last year, 1,390 women sold fruit to the company. When the baobab harvest is good near some communities one year, the women in that area get a lot of fruit, while others don’t have so much. But the average is more than $50 per woman. And that’s transformative for that community: people buy roofing sheets, motorbikes, cows. We’ve got hundreds of stories of how women are gaining financial resources, which they contribute to the family.

HOST:
Do you only work with women? And do you have permanent suppliers or can anybody sell to you?

ANDREW KINGMAN:
We contract the women because we’re certified by EcoCert, an organic certifier from Europe, which has very strict standards on training. All of the women suppliers have to go through an annual training and registration process. Many of them have been with us for years. It’s a very important source of income for them so they come back.

HOST:
Why only women?

ANDREW KINGMAN:
Firstly, it’s women that traditionally collect wild harvested products, whether it’s medicinal plants, leaves, wild fruits, native species of fruits, or baobab. And they do the processing and the cooking, too.

We were determined that the trade wasn’t going to be taken over by men, because that’s what normally happens as soon as you put some value on an activity. But we don’t exclude men. In many cases, it’s a family occupation.

But the women’s empowerment is not just about money. The critical thing is that it’s the women that have the contract, not the men. So that changes the balance of power.

HOST:
What are the advantages of working only with women?

ANDREW KINIGMAN:
They’re serious, they don’t tend to drink in the same quantity, or in the same way.

They know the forest, they know the process, they’re reliable.

Also, our foundation is working in these communities on literacy and numeracy work, sustainable agriculture, natural resource management, community organization. So the baobab trade gives us a platform to work with the community at large.

What we found is that, over the last few years, there has been a change in gender dynamics in the household. Women are reporting that they’re treated with more respect in the community. And in the household, we’ve seen a lot of change in the way that decision-making takes place. Normally, the men would take the money and decide what’s done with it. Now, there are far more examples where there is a conversation in the household about prioritizing the money because the money is more substantial. And the women are using their relative power to negotiate space.

HOST:
What is the next step after collecting the fruits?

ANDREW KINGMAN:
We have a lot of collection points. When the fruit comes in, it’s weighed, the women are immediately given the money if it’s payday, or they get a receipt from their lead collector.

Because they know they’re going to get paid, they come back on the buying day, and we transport the fruits to one of four or five pre-processing centres where we crack the fruit and extract the pulp.

HOST:
Where do you get most of your clients?

ANDREW KINGMAN:
It’s mostly international. We’re seeing big companies getting involved, and we sell mostly to European markets.

We’re a commercial company, we’re trying to make a profit, and we want to share that profit with our suppliers.

But we are also very concerned with pursuing trade principles of fair practice in the community and fair treatment of our suppliers. So we also try to find buyers who share those values.

HOST:
What makes baobab different from other agricultural products?

ANDREW KINGMAN:
What makes it stand out as a product is its natural qualities. The pulp of the fruit is extremely nutritious. We’re talking about levels of vitamin C that are four to five times the equivalent of an orange. It’s got more calcium per 100 grams than virtually anything in terms of natural sources. It’s rich in potassium, magnesium, and dietary fibre. And it also tastes good.

HOST:
You are operating in Manica. Is this something that can give the locals some wealth in their immediate future?

ANDREW KINGMAN:
Definitely. For many communities in the poorest areas, the driest areas where agriculture really isn’t very rewarding, it’s probably their main source of money. Baobab has shifted from being something that provides a few extra coins to being the most important source of money in a year for some families.

HOST:
Where do you want to see your company in the next five years?

ANDREW KINGMAN:
I want to see more suppliers earning more money and more involved in our company. We’ve helped the women set up a collectors’ association, which represents the interests of the collectors in our company.

By the end of this year, we want to transfer shares to that association. We want to continue to help them develop their ability to really play a part in the company and the value chain.

HOST:
What are the biggest challenges for the whole value chain?

ANDREW KINGMAN:
Climate change is a major challenge. Short-to medium-term modelling shows that central Mozambique is going to get wetter. The fruit supply was affected by major storms late last year, which took all the flowers away. It also removed a large proportion of the flies that pollinate the flowers and stopped the fruit developing. So climate change is definitely a threat.

The other thing is that world markets can be fickle and volatile. It’s very hard for small companies to survive in a challenging international market. We don’t have a lot of support structures in place, it’s hard to get affordable bank loans, to manage cash flow, shortages, and so on. So sustainability is a challenge.

HOST:
In the emerging baobab sector in Mozambique, associations are mushrooming in the districts of Guro and Tambara and that is exactly where Baobab Products Mozambique is training potential suppliers. Ana Mlambo is BPM’s training coordinator and she explains about the association’s involvement.

How big is the association?

ANA MLAMBO:
The association is made up of 25 villages, of which eight are in the District of Tambara and the rest are from the District of Guro.

There were about 1,800 members registered from these 25 village associations last year.

HOST:
How does it work? Do they pay to join?

ANA MLAMBO:
To become a member, you have to be registered and have a contract as a supplier for Baobab Products Mozambique, or BPM.

When you do the training, BPM gives you contracts for baobab collection. The association is still young and at times BPM helps it to look ahead at what will happen next year and where the fruit cracking will happen. And they discuss future prices and where they will be collecting.

They also talk about what external clients want and expect in terms of the quality of the food produced and the quality and quantity of the product.

HOST:
How is baobab collecting changing the lives of ordinary people where you are operating?

ANA MLAMBO:
It has changed a lot since the time when this was considered an activity just for women. When the company first started talking about buying baobab, all the villagers, especially men and village leaders, had difficulties joining.

But now, ladies who are widows, those who are divorced, those who have husbands—they gain a certain respect in the village because they are contributing to the development of the village, they are building new houses.

Their husbands are now coming back to some communities, and actually starting to collect the baobab fruit and give it to their wives, who then sell it.

This is changing into a family project where all family members participate.

We started with about 500, but now we’ve got 1,800 collectors. Among these, 25 are lead collectors who buy from their collectors. And now the leaders actually find the agents and talk to them. The agents are buyers who may come at any time and buy small quantities. The leaders are also thinking of other avenues for making money. So there’s a lot of things happening here.

In the past, I saw a lot of women with no confidence. They did not even have self-respect. But I see women with this force, with the courage to talk and to defend this project, to defend what they are doing.

And I see children with big smiles going to secondary school, which has not happened before.

So a lot has changed. Women are defending their rights and protecting their families. This is really something that I talk about with a lot of emotion. And I am proud of working with these women.

HOST:
Mrs. Ana, what is your role in the organization?

ANA MLAMBO:
My main role is to train these women and I work with them to create the association. The training includes talking about the women’s lives, the problems they face, and how they can come up with solutions without going out of their villages, and also giving them the skills to implement the organic system and to negotiate with the company and how they should take care of the environment. They need to take care of the forests and understand what happens if there’s a lot of logging with a lot of fire outbreaks. So basically, this is my fight alongside the women.

HOST:
You’ve said that most of these women are illiterate, and that you are training them. What is your biggest challenge with that?

ANA MLAMBO:
We started working with the women on education. We want to teach teenagers how to read and write, we want them to understand, especially when they come and they see baobab collection. What should they expect and what should they look at when they are weighing their fruits? What should they check when they are registering the amount of baobab and how they should compare it with the amount of money that they are getting to?

HOST:
Ms. Ana Mlambo, I thank you very much for your insights and your time.

HOST:
Cacilda Mandinhosa Trabuco is a 31-year-old widow with four children and four years’ experience collecting baobab fruits.

CACILDA MANDINHOSA TRABUCO:
The best way to make a living now is to pick baobab although even though it is seasonal. During the off season, I go to the fields for farming. With the money I receive from selling baobab, I buy clothes and food and do other small businesses like buying and selling salt and sugar in the village where I live.

HOST:
Febi Antonio Mainato is a 33-year-old married mother of four who grew up in extreme poverty. She sees an opportunity to earn a living from the large swathe of land containing baobab trees near her.

FEBI ANTONIO MAINATO:
We didn’t know that baobab had any value at all and we survived entirely on subsistence farming and horticulture despite the dry weather here. But when I started to collect baobab in 2012, my life turned around. Today, I can send my children to school and the family has built a proper house from what I earn in this job. I also help my husband with home expenses and we eat better food now.

HOST:
The opportunity to collect baobab seems to be unifying families; every family member is involved.

FEBI ANTONIO MAINATO:
The family is more united now. My husband helps me to build sheds where I store baobab after collecting, and he helps me when I am drying it.

HOST:
So Mainato is looking to the future with hope.

Maria William is a 32-year-old divorced mother of three. She echoed the same sentiments.

MARIA WILLIAM:
As a divorcee, poverty and daily suffering drove me to find solutions to survive, and collecting baobab was the only answer. In 2018, I could not even send my children to school. Now this has changed and I can pay my own bills and send my children to school, and we live in a decent house.

HOST:
Women like Maria William are passionate about baobabactivities, and want more training to further opportunities in the area.

MARIA WILLIAM:
More training is needed because we want to know what we can do with the low quality baobab, fruits that are smaller or broken and that are not accepted by the company. I see a lot of opportunities in the baobab sector and that is what I want to spend all my life doing since there are no other survival options. I want to improve the quality of my life and one day I would like to buy a motor bike and offer it to my son.

HOST:
After being trained by BPM, Suzete Zita, a 37-year-old mother of four, produces yogurt from underutilized fruits such as baobab. She spends most of her time carefully examining baobab fruit and other wild plants in her rural home in the district of Manhiça, 75 kilometres north of the capital, Maputo to determine if they can be used to flavour yogurt.

SUZETE ZITA:
I got the idea to produce baobab-flavoured yogurt after some local farmers complained that they had nowhere to sell their milk, and so they were losing it.

I used to work at a petrol station and I talked to my former manager about my idea. He gave me some tips on working with wild fruits and milk. Then, two years ago, I bought a stove and some large pots to make the yogurt.

Now I can make about $128 US in a good week working just five days.

I had a little capital for other business ideas, but I thought baobab products was a bankable idea. So I dropped every other idea and focused on making yogurt. I used less than $175 to kick-start the business, and I recovered that money in less than two months.

I buy milk from farmers in my village to produce the yogurt, which I then mix with baobab powder or Vanguera infausto fruit before shipping it along the highway near to the capital, Maputo, for sale. (Editor’s note: Vanguera infausto has different common names, including mapfilua in the Shangana language spoken by the majority of people in southern Mozambique.)

I am planning to build my own yogurt factory, and I’m now able to export fresh, baobab-flavoured to neighbouring countries like Eswatini, South Africa, and Zimbabwe.

You know, agriculture is mainly associated with suffering, and no young person wants to suffer. So with my yogurt factory, I will offer young people jobs in the laboratory and administrative work in the office.

HOST:
Suzete Zita is one of a growing band of successful farmers working to jazz up agriculture’s image in Mozambique.

Thanks for your kind attention. Today, we heard from Andrew Kingman, the director of Baobab Products Mozambique, Ana Mlambo, BPM’s training coordinator, three women who collect baobab, and one woman who processes baobab into yogurt

We learned that baobab, which until recently was an unpopular fruit in Mozambique, is increasingly exported to Europe and USA as a popular health food, and that a company called BPM is helping to benefit a few thousand women collectors of the wild–harvested fruit by increasing their baobab payments, treating them fairly, and enabling them to make a good living for their families and communities.

Acknowledgements

Contributed by: Charles Mangwiro, journalist, Maputo, Mozambique.

Reviewed by: Paulo do Rosário, Baobab Value Chain Specialist Advisor, Green Innovation Centre for the Agriculture and Food Sector, GIAE Mozambique

Interviews

Andrew Kingman, April 28, 2021

Ana Mlambo, May 5, 2021

Cacilda Mandinhosa Trabuco, May 5, 2021

Feb Antonia, May 5, 2021

Maria William, May 5, 2021

This resource was supported with the aid of a grant from The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH (GIZ) implementing the Green Innovation Centre project.