Marula tree can feed five product value chains
The Marula tree is found in abundance in Namibia’s northern and north-eastern regions. It is widespread across southern Africa.
Shea Butter is to Ghana what Marula oil is to Namibia. But Ghana has commercialised its Shea butter into a million dollar industry supporting close to 600,000 producers, whereas Namibia is still struggling to leverage the local abundance of the Marula fruit. This indigenous natural product has unique properties beneficial to both the food and cosmetics industries.
The Marula fruit is harvested when it is ripe to extract what is called Marula juice (Oshinhwa – in Oshiwambo). The juice is consumed fresh, therefore kept only overnight before it is consumed the following day. It is mostly consumed by children due to its sweet nature. For the elderly, the juice is fermented two to three days, which then turns into Marula liquor (Omaongo in Oshiwambo).
According to traditional knowledge, the Marula liquor can be kept in the fridge for up to six months. The long shelf life is one of the reasons why it makes business sense to commercialise the liquor.
After the fruit harvest Marula nuts are left in abundance. The skins are also dried and used as animal fodder. With more research and innovation, the skins could easily find a viable market as well. Maybe crush them and sell them as supplements in feeds or sell them as powder.
The nuts are left to dry until they are ready to be cracked, a traditional process called okutenda. Women sit all day in the shade cracking the nut open. This method could easily be mechanised to ensure efficiency in a production set up. What is extracted after cracking the nut is the white kernel called Omaxuku. It is pressed to extract the oil.
There are two types of Marula oil. The distinction I give is based on the extraction process.
(a) If the oil is extracted by a press, it is pure and clear in colour. This oil is used in the cosmetics industry as an intermediate input to make lotions or body and hair oil. For instance, the Body Shop gets Marula oil from the Eudafano Women Co-operatives based in the northern areas. It can also be positioned as a niche product in the Spa and Wellness industry around the world.
(b) If the oil is extracted using the traditional method, it is called Odjove which is used as a delicacy at festivals and weddings, or when an important visitor arrives. With the proliferation of traditional restaurants, Odjove could be commercialised for this market in addition to the existing demand from households.
The waste that is left after the kernels have been pressed out is used as a soup (Omwayi) to season chicken and other traditional dishes like mashed beans (Oshingali).
From the above, it is clear that the Marula tree can easily create up to five viable value chains and if well-established, can create great value for rural Namibia.
The value chains are beverages, animal fodder, cosmetic oil, culinary oil and soup. Commercialising these chains are easier said than done.
On the one hand, you are dealing with indigenous knowledge and traditional methods which must be transformed so that everybody benefits equally from a sustainable market.
On the other hand, the formal market which requires compliance with manufacturing and consumption standards.
The first step is probably to set up a laboratory to research the properties found in each product. This is used in translating and profiling the benefits of each product and will be used on the labelling and packaging. Example, the expiry date needs to be known for it to be shelved by retailers.
The second step would be to conduct a thorough market analysis to quantify the demand for each of the products and to establish the volume of available raw material. For instance, a Marula nut which did not make the juice extraction process can still be dried to extract the kernel.
The third step would be the design of the manufacturing plant including the equipment to automate production processes. For this, production standards must be incorporated in the plant design.
Standards are a function of both the government and the private sector. Under the Namibia Standards Institution, standards are voluntary, and they have to be initiated by the private sector. So for traders in Marula oil and the cosmetics industry to apply standards, they have to organise themselves through an association and submit a request to the NSI to initiate standards development.
Once that is achieved, it becomes easier for entrepreneurs to enter the cosmetics sector and to add value to indigenous products and for the food industry to source ingredients. This is essentially what the government wants and is advocated in national development policies. Cosmetics are a priority sector under the Growth of At Home strategy. The challenge presently is the seed capital to set up manufacturing plants. This sector is perfect for Joint Ventures and Public Private Partnerships with investors providing capital while local partners source raw material and provide the expertise.