2014 Mar: Baobab seedlings get big ideas!

In November last year EcoProducts did a workshop with 50 rural women harvesters in how to grow and conserve baobabs.  Each woman was given a seed and a planting bag to take home.  Well, when I visited the village this week, some of the women took me to see their so- called seedlings.  They had successfully germinated and had grown very fast into strapping little baobab trees!  They need another year or two before they are tall enough to survive goat browse and then we will plant them out. This is all part of a wider baobab tree conservation program. Here's a photo of Blessing with her little tree. 

 

Baobab fruit season

February is a wonderful time to see growing baobab fruit.  They emerge from their showy white flowers in December and take six months to grow into our superfruit. In February they are still growing and the fruit are soft and green.  The inside of the fruit is wet and pulpy, providing an ideal environment for the seeds to grow and mature.  I usually do annual fruit monitoring at this time so that I can catch them on the tree, counting the number of small, medium and large fruit on each of 40 trees that I visit each year .By May they start to dry out and drop off the trees.  This is my 8th year of monitoring the same trees every year.  Must be a record!

 

 

Monitoring with baobab harvesters

Last week I did my annual baobab fruit monitoring trip where I gather research information on a spcecific population of 40 baobab trees.  This year I am looking at how much fruit each tree produces each year and how that varies from season to season and between land use types.  Usually I have a field assistant whom I hire from the village, but this time I decided to train some of the fruit harvesters how to do the monitoring.  They found it really interesting and now have a better understanding of resource management.   It's part of a long-term development plan and very important for the harvesters to know how to monitor as one day they will be doing all the monitoring themselves! 

 

Most expensive baobab (painting) in SA

J Pierneef  was a South African landscape artist, generally considered to be one of the best of the old South African masters. According to this websitePierneef’s painting, The Baobab Tree  (painted around1934)  holds the record for most expensive South African painting sold at Bonhams in 2008 for R 11.8 million!  Apparently the buyer, says a Mail & Guardian archive article from 2008,  was an unidentified South African individual.   A powerful painting with an almost unearthly luminous glow about it.

The Order of the Baobab

This Order was created in 2002,  to be awarded to South African citizens for distinguished service. The service awarded is well above and beyond the ordinary call of duty. It is an award for exceptional and distinguished contributions in the following categories.

  • The struggle for democracy

  • Building democracy and human rights

  • Nation-building

  • Peace and security

  • Journalism, literature, arts, culture, sport and music

  • Business and the economy

  • Science, medicine and technological innovation

  • Community service

Organisation

This Order can be awarded in three Classes:

Class 1 = Supreme Counsellor of the Order of the Baobab (Gold)

Class 2 = Grand Counsellor of the Order of the Baobab (Silver)

Class 3 = Counsellor of the Order of the Baobab (Bronze)

Symbolism / Design Elements

This Order finds its inspiration from the Baobab which is a tropical African tree. The origins of the name Baobab is part of the many rich legends and mysteries of Africa. It has probably been more often described than any other tree in Africa for among other things its vitality, and magical and symbolic value to indigenous people. The endurance and tolerance shown by the tree in growing old is reflective of the sustained and exceptional service to South Africa that is awarded by this Order. Similarly the service rendered, still ensures the enduring and growing status of South Africa.

The Baobab is an important element in many African agro forestry systems. It provides bark for cloth and rope, fruits for food and fuel, and many other useful products. The familiar, broad and strong protruding root system supports a massive tree commonly known as a place for many important meetings and protection in traditional African societies.

Previous recipients have been among others : Mahatma Gandhi, Cyril Ramaphosa, Sheena Duncan, Nowongile Cynthia Molo 

 

 

 

 

 

Bioprospecting – what does it mean?

What is a bioprospecting permit?  And why is EcoProducts Bioprospecting permit such a big deal?

On the 12 November 2013, EcoProducts was issued with a Bioprospecting permit from the South Africa Department of Environment Affairs. So what, you may ask, is this all about?

South Africa has introduced laws that make it illegal to harvest our indigenous resources for commercial use.   Companies must be able to prove that the resources being harvested are done with the full knowledge and benefit of the communities who own the resource and that it is being done sustainable way.  In issuing a Bioprospecting permit to EcoProducts for harvesting baobab fruit, we become one of the very few companies in South Africa to be recognized as being compliant with the legislation. 

Bioprospecting involves a wide range of groups, from researchers, owners of the resources, harvesters, companies involved in processing, marketing and reselling of the products and government departments.  Examples of other products are Rooibos, Pelargonium, Marula and Aloe. It is thus a complex piece of legislation to manage.  Everybody involved is expected to have a bioprospecting permit so that our resources continue to provide benefits to current and future generations.

Baobab Flowers Fine Art: Gill Condy

What an honor and a delight spending time with Gillian Condy sketching baobab flowers under the boughs of the baobab trees in Limpopo.  Gill is South Africa’s foremost botanical artist and works for the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) as a resident botanical artist.  Her award-winning works are world famous and include a plate in Highgrove Florilegium, a two volume book on the flowering plants in Prince Charles garden Highgrove House.

She has often illustrated baobab flowers in the past, the most well known is one done for the cover of South African Botanical Art: Peeling back the Petals (2001) 

One sultry evening I took Gill to a tree in Venda which had flowers that were just about to burst open at sunset.  With an ice cold beer in hand bought at a local Shebeen, we placed ourselves under the tree on our camping chairs to sit and watch the spectacle about to begin right in front of our eyes.  Flowers that were closed before sunset suddenly burst into glorious extravagant blossom.

Gill first sketches the flower in pencil and then fills in with watercolours. She says:  “I like to work in the field and see the flower in situ so that I can capture its true colours before they bruise.”  For more fascinating facts about Baobab flowers visit:  http://www.ecoproducts.co.za/baobab-science/tis-flowering-season

 

 

 

Pretty pods!

Not just a highly nutrititious food, with some imagination, skill and flair look at these amazingly creative decor ideas with Baobab pods!  find them here, here and here.

Film maker Greg Cameron: do less, do it better, make it matter more

Recently, Greg Cameron was commissioned by PhytoTrade to make a film on baobabs in which he records the stories of the baobab fruit collectors and how baobab fruit help them improve their lives. Here, Itai Chibiya, PhytoTrade's Monitoring and Research Evaluator is being filmed while being interviewed.   EcoProducts was chosen as the site for the interviews.  Sarah Venter, the owner of EcoProducts was also interviewed about how she works with the harvesters and ensures that the collection of the fruit benefits everybody in the supply chain and in particular the harvesters.  Sitting under one of the biggest baobabs in the village chatting to some of the baobab fruit collectors gave her an insight into what this special and talented man was all about.  He says “ do less, do it better and make it matter more”.   He now wants to fuse his knowledge with his passion to build socially conscious brands through integrated story.

Watch Greg's recent stunning works on the Baobab including one for EcoProducts   and one for Terres DÁFrique

Greg was also commissioned to film the Siemens COP 17 Baobab video – a brilliant 90 second video! 

There are 21 videos by Greg Cameron on Vimeo.  He is a freelance video producer and has done a wide variety of award-winning work from TV ad campaigns to brand promotions.  Do take a few minutes out of your day to watch his videos- he's a man to follow! 

 

2013 Dec: 50 new baobab babies!

Last month,  50 rural women harvesters attended a  baobab growing and sustainable harvesting course.  I had such fun with this, taking 50 rural women baobab fruit harvesters on a field trip from Zigodini village to Pafuri River Camp Nursery, on the banks of the Mutale River. The course was done with a mixture of practical parts and discussions. The discussions focused on a number of questions related to baobab biology, climate change, sustainable harvesting and nursery practice. The women were encouraged to participate in discussions and debate each question. The practical part was in the nursery where they learned about baobab germination, growth, soil requirements, watering, and so much more. Each woman was given a planting bag and seeds to take home so that she can grow her first baobab and plant it out into the village where she lives. Here's to 50 more baobab trees growing in the Limpopo!

Mandela: an icon of Africa for the world

Madiba's unmistakable stature as statesman, leader and human being made him visible in a way that made it possible for all to see. May his moral example be as long lived as the Baobab tree, may the memory of his wisdom serve, and be the same shade under which people have gathered in community for generations to draw inspiration for the way forward. RIP.

Pura-vida: made in the Limpopo, sold in Singapore

LOHASIA is a social enterprise working to educate, empower and inspire everyone to enjoy lifestyles of health and sustainability. Recently, they published an article on Kristi Mackintosh owner of Pura Vida, an online natural product store selling amongst other beauty products, EcoProducts Baobab Oil. Here's an extract from the article: 

"Recognising the potential for positive impact that our purchasing decisions can have on the people that make our products, Kristi works with companies such as Eco Products in South Africa. This small enterprise produces baobab oil, an excellent skin moisturizer containing Omega 3, 6 and 9 fatty acids, which contribute towards maintaining a healthy skin. Eco Products sources the baobab directly from women in local rural communities who have been using baobab oil for centuries, but who never looked at the oil as a resource for selling and making an income. Now over 1,000 women receive income from Eco Products, and the company has rigorous sustainability practices to ensure the long-term conservation of this important tree". 

For the full article click here: http://lohasia.net/heroes/175-kristi-mackintosh

Tis Flowering Season!

Tis the season to be flowering and what jolly big flowers they are too!  The flowers are the size of a saucer, measuring up to 15cm across.  They have delicate white waxy petals which pull up like a lady's skirt when curtseying for the queen!  They open as the sun sets and within 20 minutes are fully dilated, so you can literally watch them as they open. The blossoms stay alive for just 24 hours so by the time the sun sets the next day the flowers are spent. Baobabs in South Africa flower have their peak flowering season in November and range in number from 10 flowers per tree to up to a thousand flowers per tree at a time!  Dr. Sarah Venter has spent two years studying the flowering baobabs making notes on variation between seasons, trees and landscapes in which the trees occur.  But aren't they just exquisitely beautiful?

EcoProducts is Awarded Bioprospecting Permit

During an impressive ceremony hosted by the Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs in Polokwane last week, EcoProducts was one of three companies who were awarded a bioprospecting permit.  The permit was handed over to Dr Sarah Venter and two community representatives, Ms Sophiah Nemutshenzheni and Ms Livhuwani Tshivhiyahuvhi by the MEC for Economic Development, Environment and Tourism, Limpopo Province, Mr Moloto.

The permit means that Sarah and her communities have the blessing of the Department of Water and Environmental Affairs for their activities.  They are only one of 11 companies who are now compliant with the new legislation on bioprospecting and the utilization of our indigenous biological resources.

The Biodiversity Act which promotes the "fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilisation of genetic resources".  In this way the act is founded on the Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit Sharing which arose from the Convention on Biological Diversity.   

EcoProducts: we’re in the Healthbox SA

A few months ago, we told you about Healthbox SA which we think is such a cool concept! Each month, subscribers to Health Box SA are sent a luxurious combination of health, fitness and wellness products. Each item has been tried, tested and tasted by a panel of experts to ensure that what lands up on subscribers’ doorsteps are the latest, trusted and best-for-you products available. Last time our Baobab oil featured and this month EcoProducts Baobab Superfruit powder makes its debut appearance in the Healthbox.

Health Box SA delivers – to the subscriber’s door – all the best healthy products the wellness market has to offer!

To try it out for yourself, click here for more details http://buff.ly/15AQ7rC

 

 

Where did that baobab come from?

There are 8 different species of Baobab trees 6 of which are native to Madagascar, one in Africa and one in Australia. There’s a lot of controversy about where the Baobab tree originated  as it’s often been assumed that Madagascar is the centre of origin because it has the most different species. This implies that Adansonia digitata migrated from Madagascar to Africa. It’s been estimated that the divergence between the African Adansonia digitata and the Madagascan trees occurred about 10 million years ago dating well after the breakup of Gondwana and the separation of Madagascar from Africa which happened about 100 million years ago. However, in 2009 a group of researchers lead by Jean-Michel Pock Tsy conducted research and their findings strongly suggested that the centre of origin of baobab is actually West Africa. With the species being distributed by humans travelling across Africa. Recent studies clearly indicate that most of Madagascar’s plants descended from ancestors that have colonized the island from overseas. So Africa is in fact the most likely cradle of the Baobab tree! 

What’s in a name: Adansonia digitata

The latin name, Adansonia digitata, was given to the baobab by Carl Linneaus.  He named the baobab after the a French naturalist Michel Adanson.  Adanson was posted to Senegal in 1749 to research the natural resources of the area. He was blown away by his first sight of a baobab describing it as "a forest in itself”. This description of the tree reached Linneaus while Adanson was still in Africa, However when Adanson retuned to Europe he opposed the name, suggesting it be named baobab from the earlier description made by Alpini.  But Linneaus would not change his mind and thus the genus continues to be known as Adansonia. 

The specific name for this species is ‘digitata’ from the palmate shaped leaves which look like a hand with digits (fingers).  

Source: Watson, 2007

Nothing goes to waste – it all goes back to Nature!

Absolutely nothing goes to waste when we make our baobab oil and powder.  We would potentially have three ‘waste’ products.  The first is the shell of the fruit, which is cracked open to remove the power and seed in the primary stage of processing.  The second is the seed coat, this is the very hard outer layer of the seed itself.  We remove this just before we extract the oil as it does not contain any oil.  The third is the seed cake, this is left over after we have pressed the seed.   The fruit shells are used as a fuel in our Donkey Boiler to make hot water for our staff to shower.  The baobab seed coats are used as mulch in our vegetable and flower gardens.  Lastly the seed cake is used by livestock farmers in the area as feed for their cattle and sheep.  Nothing is left after we've processed the baobab seed pods  – it all goes back to Nature. 

What’s in a name: baobab

Across Africa baobabs are known by many different names and we know that the fruit have been used for thousands of years. However, the first detailed botanical descriptions were made by Prospero Alpini, a 16th Century physician and botanist living in Venice who spent three years in Cairo. He first saw the fruit being sold in the Cairo Souks and came to know them as ‘bu hubab’, meaning “having many seeds” in Arabic.  And hence the common name ‘baobab’

Source: Watson, 2007

Baobabs in Cornwall: the Eden Project

Who would have thought there would be a whole week devoted to the Baobab tree in Cornwall, England? But it’s true! The Eden Project, a wonderful organisation devoted to supporting transformative social and environmental enterprises is hosting a Harvest Festival in Cornwall. http://www.edenproject.com/visit-us/whats-on/other-activities/harvest-food-festival-in-cornwall “Baobab Week” is from the 8th – 13th October. They even have a baobab tree in their Rainforest Biome. We’re delighted at how the Baobab tree is getting around these days!

The real truth about water in baobab trees

baobab water storage

 

There’s a bit of a myth out there that you can tap water out of a baobab which is illustrated by this delightful cartoon.

The truth is that a freshly felled baobab trunk weighs about 850kg per cubic meter.  Once dried out, it weighs 200kg per cubic meter.  This means that baobabs are able to store 650 litres of water per cubic meter of tree.  In other words the tree consists of 76% water which is a lot!   But even though it has so much water, it is sadly not available for us to drink just like that.  Baobabs are actually very careful with how much water they use; they have ‘tight stomatal control’ (sounds like pinching my bladder).  The two most important functions of their stem water is to keep them standing upright and to help them flush new leaves at the beginning of the growing season.   They often shrink when this happens. 

Baobabs also store water in natural hollows between branches and on the outside for the trunk.  In very arid areas people often cut hollows into baobabs to create storage ‘wells’ to catch rainwater and perhaps this is where the myth began that Baobab trees can offer drinking water to passing animals and humans. 

Look honey! I shrunk the baobab tree!

I  have never quite understood the appeal of bonsai, so I decided to see for myself what it was all about.  I visited Lampies Schoeman who has about 100 trees, surely one of the largest collection of baobab bonsai in the world!  He has grown and created most of his bonsai himself over the last 10 years.

I always thought those who grew bonsai were just strange nurserymen/women, but my time with Lampies made me realise they are in fact true artists. The careful shaping of the plant over many years to create a perfect miniature requires a huge amount of patience, vision and talent.   Looking at these bonsai with new eyes, I imaginedI was a giant walking in the bush with baobabs dotted around my feet.  It was quite a new perspective – for once looking down on a baobab tree!  The trees really do look exactly as they do in the wild but 1000 times smaller. They were Little Giants.   It made me wonder if this is how God felt when he turned the baobab tree upside down for being so belligerent! 🙂

where do you go with the baobab fruit?

Last week while on a photo shoot in Venda,  the harvesters asked me where I went with all the baobab fruit I buy from them.  So I said, why don’t you come and see?  We worked out the taxi money from Venda and back and set a date for the following Thursday.  

The women travelled 200km to visit EcoProducts in Makhado. They arrived in their beautiful Minwendas (traditional venda dress).  I could not resist the temptation of putting on my Minwenda which was given to me by Chief Sumbana a few years ago.  

We showed the women around the premises and they chatted with all the staff.  When they saw what the fruit was being used for and how we process the powder and oil, they realized why I am so fussy about the quality of fruit I buy from them.  There was such tremendous ‘buy-in’ from them, once they understood the importance of the harvesting work they did. They felt part of a greater process rather than just the suppliers of the fruit.  

We showed them the cracking, separating, sieving and packing of the powder.  They also were amazed by the oil press and that such a small dry seed could produce oil.

EcoProducts and Natural Medicine Magazine

The contributing authors of Natural Medicine are professionals and experts in their fields, but don't get paid for their article contributions. Instead, they are given gifts of a variety of health and wellness products. EcoProducts is delighted to be a contributor and we hope the authors enjoy their gift of Baobab oil!