Mozambique: Baobab provides income for fruit collectors

| August 29, 2021

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Ivan Mambasso collects baobab fruits in the Mozambican forest. After collecting as much as he can carry, he transports the fruits several kilometres through the forest to his homestead, then sells it to a company called Mozambique Baobab Products. Collecting baobab fruit is Mr. Mambasso’s main source of income. He says that, although there are challenges, including the lack of good markets, poor prices, and a lack of facilities for adding value, his family now relies on baobab fruit as a source of income. Baobab collectors such as Mr. Mambasso are not skilled at negotiating, so buyers dictate prices. He believes that the members of the association of baobab collectors to which he belongs need training on negotiation, marketing, and adding value to better their incomes.

It is very quiet in the thick of the forest, though birds are whistling from different directions in the distance. Any sound catches the attention of Ivan Mambasso, who is busy moving from one tree to another to collect baobab fruits on the ground.  

Mr. Mambasso says: “I collect fruits from the bush and sell them to a nearby company called Mozambique Baobab Products, or MBP, on the roadside. I spend days picking baobab in the forest by hand and then I select the good ones and pack them in sacks.”

After collecting as many baobab fruits as he can carry, Mr. Mambasso walks slowly towards the bumpy, dusty gravel road, sandwiched by reed and mud huts, that leads to his homestead. He lives in Mungari village in Guro district, in central Mozambique’s Manica province.

Collecting baobab fruit has become Mr. Mambasso’s main source of income. After collecting fruits in the forest, he breaks them open to sell the pulp and seed. 

He says: “Although there are many challenges such as the lack of good markets, poor prices, and lack of equipment and facilities for adding value, my family now depends on baobab fruits as a source of livelihood.”

Mr. Mambasso is a member of the Association of Baobab Collectors. He explains, “At the Association, we are trained on how to collect quality baobab fruits for sale to MBP because, for one to be allowed to sell, he or she must be a member of the Association and must get the training first.”

Poor road infrastructure, long distances to the market, and lack of transport keep Mr. Mambasso and other baobab fruit collectors from making a good profit. He explains, “Access roads leading to the main road where we wait for the buyer are in a bad state. We use wheelbarrows or two-wheeled carts pulled by cows to travel about eight to ten kilometres.”

Mr. Mambasso says part of the difficulty is that collectors are not able to carry large quantities. On top of that, because the collectors are not skilled at negotiating prices, buyers dictate the price despite the collectors’ efforts to bring the baobab fruits to them. 

He says: “MBP offers us between three and four Mozambique metical ($0.05-$0.06 US) per kilogram. The price is usually determined by the quality of the pulp. Sometimes we do a better trade by exchanging a bucket of pulp and seed for a box of spaghetti.”

To deal with these challenges, Mr. Mambasso says the members of the association need ways of accessing good markets. He also believes they need training on marketing and value addition as a group.

Elcidio Bachita is an economist and lecturer at the business school of the University of São Tomás in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique. He says that although baobab fruit collectors receive low prices because they cannot process or add value to the fruits, baobab trees sustain their livelihoods because they resist droughts and other adverse weather conditions. 

Mr. Bachita notes that the leaves of the baobab tree are edible and the seed is used to produce oil. He adds: “Baobab fruit has a white bittersweet-flavoured pulp which is a source of vitamins and minerals that are good for health. It has twice as much calcium as milk and is rich in antioxidants, iron, and potassium, and has six times as much vitamin C as an orange.” 

Andrew Kingman is the general manager of MBP. He says that, although there is high demand for baobab fruits on the international market, there are challenges to offering a good market to the fruit collectors.

Mr. Kingman explains, “It is not easy to penetrate the European market, which has special requirements set by the European Union.”

He adds: “As demand is increasing, we need to ensure that quality and value addition is improved, but the baobab collectors at the moment are not able to do this. The manufacturing industry is now demanding baobab powder, which they use to add value to produce food and beverages.” 

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.

Photo: “Baobab fruit” by CIFOR.