86 Years of Measuring Baobab Trees!

Skelmwater is a bare stony hillside dotted with baobab trees, but this has become a special place for Sarah Venter and Diana Mayne.  The baobab trees here are each numbered and painted with a neat stripe around their girth.  The girth of these trees has been measured since 1931.    Diana and Sarah discovered this plot in 2002 when they first went to visit it and found that the measurements had been forgotten and no one was measuring them any more.

EcoProducts Celebrates A Year of Growth!

celebrating EcoProducts
It is always a happy and vibrant day when we all go out to celebrate of a year of hard work. So much has happened for EcoProducts this year: moving to new upgraded factory premises, getting HACCP certified - two huge events! Last year we were 22 people and now we are 50 people. So we have doubled our staff and have TREBLED our production output!

EcoProducts & Abalimi Harvest of Hope

EcoProducts Abalimi Harvest of Hope
We were delighted to join forces with Abalimi Harvest of Hope and have EcoProducts organic baobab powder added to their customers' organic veggie boxes. Like EcoProducts, Abalimi Harvest of Hope works towards community upliftment through development and employment as well as strongly supporting conservation and nurturing the environment through organic farming practices. We love the work they do and we thought you'd like to learn more about them here!

Baobab Harvesters visit EcoProducts Factory

Baobab Harvesters visit EcoProducts
EcoProducts invited 30 baobab harvesters from across the Venda area to visit the new EcoProducts Baobab Processing Facility in Makhado. The purpose of the visit was to show the harvesters where the fruit goes and what happens to the fruit once it arrives at the factory.  We also wanted the harvesters and the factory staff to meet and to discuss the collection and processing challenges, and how these can be overcome through better understanding of the process.

EcoProducts is HACCP Certified – it’s BIG news

EcoProducts is HACCP certified

EcoProducts is HACCP certified!

It seems that only those businesses who have to go through HACCP certification understand the gruelling and hugely demanding process one has to undergo in order to get this internationally recognised food-safety certification.  So we’re thrilled to announce that we are have finally achieved this milestone!

Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points is a preventative food safety system that has been set up by the European Union to ensure that the production of food entails as few hazards as possible for consumers.   It offers consumers peace of mind to know that the companies they are buying their food from have been HACCP certified.

Critical control points throughout the production process are identified and begin from the very moment fruit enters our factory.  Every single fruit gets examined according to very specific standards and all non-conforming fruit eg:  cracked, old and discoloured fruit is discarded.

Our environment is highly controlled with all staff required to use anti-bacterial soap, wear protective clothing, and the building has intensive anti-pest measures in place.  We also constantly swab surfaces for analysis and send our powder regularly for microbiological testing for any yeasts, moulds or bacteria.

A HACCP inspection takes a whole day, but it’s taken us a whole year to prepare for it, making sure we have all the many, many process steps in place to qualify.

Bernadette McCabe: Beauty of the baobab

baobab photography

Bernadette McCabe is a Fine Art – Documentary stills photographer based in Cape Town who has developed a deep passion for colour, light, style, mood & texture… and for the magic of telling a story through the lens of a camera and capturing it in a single frame.  She loves to  create imagery that will move the viewer and at times be the trigger to shape a new consciousness!

She has travelled widely throughout the African continent and beyond, using a strong documentary photographic style – melting into the scenery, watching and learning, becoming invisible to the subject at hand.  Much of her documentary work, travel portraiture and landscape photography has been used in solo exhibition, magazine and gallery displays.

We love her atmospheric landscapes taken in Venda, how her photos not only feature the baobab tree but also show how perfectly it fits into its surroundings.

baobab photography

See more about her work here.

2015 Jun: EcoProducts Foundation: Baobab Guardians Programme

Baobab guardians EcoProducts Foundation

A little while ago I told you about our Baobab Preschool Programme which our EcoProducts Foundation is supporting.  Another project that we’re so excited about is the Baobab Guardians programme.

The baobab tree takes 200 years to produce its first fruits, can live for over 1000 years, survives and even flourishes in almost desert-like conditions; but even this mighty giant is succumbing to the environmental impact created by our civilization. Their tasty young tender shoots get eaten up by livestock such as goats, nor can they tolerate drought at this young age so it’s rare for a seedling to last the three years it requires until reaching self-sufficiency in the wild.

goat

While fruit collection remains a sustainable practice and doesn’t in any way impact on the ecology or wellbeing of baobabs, studies show that the survival of baobab populations is being threatened in the long-term by environmental degradation and climate change. As a baobab ecologist with a doctorate in baobab sustainability, this concerns me deeply.

“It’s about creating a culture of caring for the future, for our communities and for our earth”

This is what we’re doing

Our simple aim is to plant more baobab trees in the arid area of Venda where climate change and livestock is affecting the survival of young baobabs. It’s my dream to have FIFTY strong healthy new baobabs planted and thriving out in the wild by 2017. This will ensure a new generation of young vigorous baobabs complementing the much older generations of trees currently around.

How it works

Rural Venda women are given baobab seedlings to take care of in their homes – they become Baobab Guardians. Once the seedlings reach 1 metre in height, they are ready to be planted out in the wild. Each Baobab Guardian can decide where to plant the tree, taking into account proximity to the village (the roots spread wide), how they will protect the tree from browsing livestock such as goats and donkeys, and ease of watering and caretaking.

Each baobab tree is identified by its GPS coordinates and I will be monitoring and recording its growth and progress every year.

Once the baobab seedling reaches 3 metres in height, it’s mature enough to withstand livestock foraging and drought; it no longer requires guardianship. This takes approximately 3 years.

The Baobab Guardians are rewarded financially for each completed stage.

Pics horizontal combo

We began this program in November 2013 and we need a total of R400,000 to ensure that our 4 year plan succeeds.

I can’t imagine an African landscape without Baobab trees silhouetted against the sky.  Baobab trees are an integral part of our natural heritage and our indigenous culture; quite simply they belong to Africa.

We are so grateful to the Bonga Foundation who donated seed-funding to kickstart this important project. Also our gratitude goes to Sevenhills Wholefoods who have stepped forward to fund an entire year of the program!  If you’d like to contribute in any way, please contact me at sarah@ecoproducts.co.za. I’ll be delighted to hear from you!

Here’s to creating a culture of caring!

Sarah's signature

2015 May: EcoProducts Foundation: pre-school programme

Baobab Pre-School

Thank you to all of you who have been so supportive of the launch of the EcoProducts Foundation. All your shares, likes and comments help spread the word and have been so encouraging to us.  We’d like to tell you a little more about one of our programmes, Baobab Pre-school.

Like most mothers, Venda women work hard all day long, sometimes away from home growing and harvesting crops, wild-harvesting foods and collecting firewood and water.  Of course someone needs to take care of their little ones while they’re away and this task often falls to one or two village women and so informal pre-schools are set up.

It’s heart breaking to see some of these bare, meagre places which offer little more than hard concrete floors surrounded by dusty unfenced grounds and if they are lucky, an old car tyre for the children to play with.  Safe play areas and equipment, good food and warm little beds and blankets for nap time seem like an impossible dream for the women who run these little pre-schools. Nor do the women have any training in early childhood development so by the time the children are of school-going age, they are ill-prepared for the school years ahead of them.

This is what we’re doing

Early Childhood Development (ECD) has been identified as a means of breaking the poverty cycle.  Those children who have received a strong foundation in their early development have been found to blossom academically. By focusing on the correct development areas and adequate nutrition before school-going age, children are given a boost that will help them for the rest of their lives.

The Baobab Pre-school programme was begun as an initiative which identifies under-resourced pre-schools in the areas where baobab harvesters live. EcoProducts Foundation has partnered with the Sumbandila Trust who has been involved in educating rural children in under-privileged schools since 2007.

How it works

Our aim is to help four pre-schools per year with these core actions:

Step-1-4 combo with text

If you’d like to contribute in any way, please contact me at sarah@ecoproducts.co.za. I’ll be delighted to hear from you!

Here’s to creating a culture of caring.

Sarah's signature

2015 May: EcoProducts Foundation: creating a culture of caring

Eco Products Foundation

I decided to create the EcoProducts Foundation (a non-profit organisation) when I realised that simply providing employment to local Venda communities wasn’t enough.  I wanted to do more and decided to support early childhood development, which in these rural areas is very neglected.   In addition, the results of my PhD research revealed that goats and drought were hampering the growth of young baobab trees.   It seemed to me that the most helpful thing I could do was to focus on creating a culture of caring for both children and trees.  So I began by setting aside funds from my own business, EcoProducts, to initiate the process and in 2013, we launched the Baobab Guardians Programme.

Since EcoProducts is fortunate to have strong connections with local and international businesses, I began to hope that the EcoProducts Foundation could create a funding conduit between my customers and the communities I work with.

I have approached a few businesses so far and have been generously supported by the Bonga Foundation and Sevenhills Organics who have stepped forward to help and to offer their warmly appreciated contributions.

With funding we have received, we are now able to support two important programmes, Baobab Guardians & Baobab Pre-school.

I would be so grateful for any further contributions to theses two programmes that are close to my heart.  Please share this post with anyone you think may be inspired to make a donation – large or small.  Every little bit is so very welcome!

To find out more about each programme and how to donate, please click on the links below.

Many thanks

Sarah's signature

EcoProducts Foundation            Baobab Guardians                  Baobab Pre-school.

 

 

 

The Sagole Baobab: still a mighty champion

Last December I visited the Sagole Big tree which is looking more magnificent than ever.  Located in Vendaland, Limpopo Province, The tree has been carbon dated as being 1200 years old!

Sagole Tree Dec 2014 with copyright

It is the biggest baobab in the world.  It has a girth of 37 m and a height of 22 meter and its crown measures 38 meters in width.  It has a huge hollow into which 10 people can comfortably fit. The Sagole tree is also noted for being home to a rare colony of Mottled Spinetails. We are so privileged to have this tree in South Africa.

Baobab Fruit Monitoring

Encouraging the harvesters to join in

Every year in February or March, I go out with a small team to do baobab fruit monitoring.  This is our 10th year!  It’s is a good time of year to do this because while most of the fruit have reached their full size, they have not matured (dried out) enough and have not yet fallen  off the trees.   We count the number of fruit on each tree, dividing them into 3 categories namely Small, Medium and Large.

After March the fruit start to dry and then they fall off the tree and are collected by the harvesters.  There appears to be a good crop of fruit this year.

I encourage the harvesters in the villages to join us during our fruit monitoring.  In this way they also learn why its important to keep monitoring fruit production each year.

The information we gather gives us an indication of the expected harvest for the year, but it also alerts us to any problems that might arise that may be related to pollinators, climate or other environmental problems.

camping during the monitoring

The monitoring usually takes two days and at the end of the first day we look forward to camping under one of the majestic baobab trees that we have been working with.  This year we put up our camp site under Tree BP6!  My friend Pete Norton drove all the way up from Cape Town to join me.   From this tree we counted 11 small, 32 medium and 40 large fruit.  This is quite a typical count for trees in this area.

Every year I am helped by two assistants, Samuel and Prince.  Here we are standing under Tree BR1 which is a small tree that produces lots of fruit every year. This year we counted 148 fruit on this tree.

My team of monitors

2015 Jan: Bonga, we thank you!

Gratitude. 

Giving back is a way of giving thanks; thanks for what we have, and what we are able to give.  And today we’re so grateful to Bonga Foods and the Bonga Foundation for their warm generosity. Their most recent donation has enabled us to give back to the Venda community which supports us in harvesting Baobab fruit for EcoProducts.  We’ve used Bonga’s generous donation to build Jungle Gyms and swings at the Zigodini pre-school.   Before, all they had to play with in the dusty school grounds were some old car tyres.  Now they play on the jungle-gym all day long – to watch their exuberant joy in playing, swinging and sliding is a gift all of itself!

Winters are very cold and these little ones were having to sleep on the cold cement floor. Now with Bonga’s donation we’ve been able to help provide some desperately needed mattresses and blankets for the children’s mid-morning naps. We’ve also been able to contribute practical maintenance such as fixing all the leaks in the roof and mending the surrounding fence so that the kids can stay safe and can’t wander off the property. 

These are all such basic things which we take for granted; now Zigodini Pre-school can too.

Thank you Bonga Foundation.  You  demonstrate the true wisdom of nurturing our future.  And children are our future.

If anyone else would like to contribute to Zigodini Pre-school in any way, please contact me at info@ecoproducts.co.za

End of season celebration

'Boabab sales have been going from strength to strength and after a busy successful season of harvesting and processing we thought it was time to celebrate!  It was good to get out of our dust coats and protective clothing and all the women, including me, enjoyed getting dressed up in traditional Venda clothes.  One of the women does exquisite bead work (on the right in the bottom pic) and she designed and made the incredibly beautiful necklaces you see here. In previous years, we haven't always been so certain of sales but EcoProducts has really surged ahead this year and we were thrilled to be able to celebrate that by sharing a lovely meal together! '  Sarah

 

Sunset Baobab trees

Sunset Baobab trees

In the last of our series featuring photographer Vanessa Bristow’s wonderful work, we leave you with these simply stunning photos of baobab trees at sunset.  It’s not difficult to see where EcoProducts got its inspiration from for its striking logo! 🙂

Baobabs in the landscape

Baobabs usually stand out in the landscape. But they can also blend… Photographer Vanessa Bristow captures this beautifully here.

Birds in baobab trees

birds in baobab trees

Photographer Vanessa Bristow has wonderfully captured these different birds perched in baobab trees in Zimbabwe.  Featured here are a Marabou Stork, an owl and a pair of Bennett’s woodpeckers busily pecking away (the female below the male). As Vanessa says of her photographs: ‘They are in humble tribute to a mighty tree! Baobab’s provide shade in summer, beautiful landscapes in winter, not to mention great picnic spots, comfortable seats, steady perches, homes for owls, insects and birds, places for giraffe to hang out in … a wonderful, arboreal celebration!’ 

The seasons of baobab trees

seasons of baobabs

Here, talented photographer Vanessa Bristow shares some of her photographs of Baobabs taken at Sentinel Ranch in Zimbabwe.  We’ll be featuring more of her stunning photographs during the week.

budding baobabs

budding baobabs

Spring has arrived in the Limpopo with budding baobabs!  The baobab trees which have been bare for most of the year are bursting into bud and leaf.  The round buds which look like fruit are actually flower buds.  They will still grow to three times that size over the next month before they are ready to open.

Baobabs start to flush small leaves like these a few weeks before the rains come, so its a good indication that rain is on its way.  They use stem water to help these leaves grow and often the trunks shrink a bit as the growing leaves absorb the water out of the trunk.  Once the rains start they absorb water from the ground to replace the stem water and so swell quickly back again to their previous size.

A New Miss Earth

Miss Earth & EcoProducts

A BIG congratulations to Ilse Saunders – the new Miss Earth and to runners-up Steffani Alexander, Michillay Brown and Roxanne Watson.  It was wonderful to share this event with you and the amazingly talented and dynamic Miss Earth team yesterday.  Your energetic leadership towards creating a better society and future is a real inspiration and we look forward to working with you all further!  

Miss Earth SA 2014 finalists meet the Baobab

Miss earth SA 2014 finalists

Yesterday the Miss Earth SA 2014 finalists met the Baobab. Sarah Venter gave them a talk on the baobab tree and EcoProducts and came away completely charmed and delighted by this impressive group of committed down-to-earth eco-princesses. Here are finalists Steffani Alexander & Roxanne Watson with baobab oil and other pics taken from the session.  And today is the BIG DAY where we'll all get to hear who the new Miss Earth SA and her 3 ambassadors will be.  We'll be following closely!