It may only be a thorn tree but food companies want to buy its resin
At the next month-end, when you can afford again to buy at a local German supermarket chain, go to the fresh produce shelves and check out the price for a thimble of pomegranate pips. It is horrendous.
Although I know from experience that pomegranates are hard to shell, and that one has to be very careful not to get small pieces of septum in the meagre harvest, I never realised it was such a difficult job. That was until I saw the price.
As children, we were very fond of pomegranates. Every garden had one or two bushes and it was quite a treat to shell and eat one. But it was never a popular item, I suspect due to its relative rarity, but also the trouble of extracting the pips clean.
Members of the Greek Orthodox church use pomegranates in a special wheat dish with icing on top. This was the only widescale use of the pips of which I was aware.
Immediately, a development question arises. If pomegranates are so horrendously expensive, but they are still stocked on local supermarket shelves, why are there not a thousand pomegranate growers in Namibia.
The bush flourishes in poor soil, it needs very little water, and winter frost does not affect it at all. It is a typical Mediterranean fruit and as such, similar to olives, it can withstand severe conditions. One only has to protect it from baboons who love the fruit, and from porcupines who love the roots.
The enormous potential of another seemingly insignificant product, this week crossed my desk. Imagine my surprise when I learned there is worldwide a whole industry built on Acacia resin. Now that got my thinking wheels spinning.
According to the information I received, Acacia gum is processed into an additive for an arrangement of foods for human consumption. These foods are typically produced for health conscious people who prefer a natural product like resin, to a number of artificial flavourants. The industry is so well established, the resin even has an industry code – E414.
“Acacia gum is a natural exudation extracted after an incision is made in an Acacia tree, making its harvest completely natural and sustainable. Acacia Gum has been used by men for millennia, and is today found in small doses in a large number of everyday products, including wines, candies, cosmetics, soft drinks and flavourings. It can be used as a coating agent for confectioneries, an emulsifier and stabilizing agent in drinks, or as fibre in dietetic products” according to the information I received.
While we are well-informed where Acacia resin comes from, I bet very few Namibians know there is an Acacia Gum industry.
If there is one plant we do not have any shortage of, it is Acacia trees, whether the Aussies like us using the name or not. So, if there is already an established industry, all we need to do is start making small incisions in every large Acacia we can find, and voila, we are in the Acacia Gum business.
There must be a dozen or so Acacia species in Namibia with some like Spirocarpa, Karoo and Erioloba growing in the millions over vast expanses of the country.
I do not know if the resin from all Acacia species is suitable for food processing, but I do know that we use to eat them all when we were small, and most of us are still around, so there can not be too many detrimental affects.
There are several such products that I believe hold very big potential for us to start growing them and harvesting them. Devil’s Claw, for instance, is one such plant.
These products are ideal for community cultivation and harvesting. Imagine how many tonnes of Acacia resin we can produce in a year from ordinary doringboom. We only need someone to alert us to the fact that there is actually a commercial market for resin.
Thirty years ago, the Marula was a fruit eaten only by elephants, baboons and children. Still, there are many traditional uses for Marula, especially the kernels from which a popular oil is extracted. Although there are a small number of entrepreneurs who utilise Marula fruits and seeds, it is nothing compared to the Marula industry in South Africa where wild Marula has been refined and is now cultivated similar to other fruits. It is the basic component for a very popular aperitif that has taken the world by storm.
If someone can figure out how to make beer from resin, perhaps we also can convince the world it tastes nice.