Is Marula Oil the New ‘It’ Oil?

As our readers know, we are always looking for information about Southern Africa, its people and stories, and the products they produce for us, like marula oil.  And, speaking of marula oil, here is an article from February, 2015, by MEGAN CAHN, Beauty Editor for ELLE.COM.

Move over, Argan and Jojoba.

Though we’re a little behind when it comes to working natural oils into our beauty routines, Americans seem to be catching up to the rest of the world—finally. First, we caught on to Argan and Jojoba oils, and then it seemed you couldn’t visit a website without reading about the million uses for coconut oil. Now, Marula oil has stormed the market and seems like it might have even more benefits (and staying power) than the rest.

The oil, derived from the indigenous Southern Africa Marula tree, can be used on its own as a cold-pressed, unrefined oil, or as an ingredient in other skin and hair products. “Marula oil is a huge antioxidant, and contains four times as much vitamin C as an orange,” Adriana Martino, co-founder of NYC’s SKINNEY Medspa, says. (It’s actually 16 percent higher in antioxidants and fatty acids than Argan and Jojoba oil, not that anyone’s judging.) Plus, she adds, Marula oil’s benefits work far into the future, too, thanks to ingredients that “fight against free radicals in your skin, which lead to cell damage and aging.”

Martino finds the oil “perfect for the winter months, as it has a bit of thicker consistency than other oils, so it creates a barrier against harsh winter conditions.” Yet Marula oil is also rich in omega-3, which allows for faster absorption into the skin—so although it is a thicker oil than some of its counterparts, it sinks right into the skin, leaving it smooth and silky, not greasy.

As for who should use Marula oil? It’s great for all skin types, which is one of the reasons Tiffany Masterson, founder of the skincare line Drunk Elephant, calls it her “star ingredient.” When she was in the early stages of developing her collection (which launched at Sephora last month), she came across Marula oil while scouting ingredients and instantly sensed its power. “As a facial oil devotee already, I recognized immediately how quickly it absorbed and just how amazing it felt on my skin,” Masterson said. “It was a no-brainer to thread it through my entire line.”

Though Masterson’s line only focuses on skin, she also swears by virgin Marula oil for her hair. “When used on hair, it hydrates, repairs, moisturizes, and helps reduce frizziness,” she says. “I’ve found that it makes the best hair serum, and I also use it as a pre-conditioning treatment before I shower.” Great for hair, skin, and the anti-aging fight: Could it be time for an oil upgrade?

Baobab could settle climate-change debate

Sipho Masombuka
The baobab could hold the secret to the effects of climate change in Southern Africa over the past 1000 years.
Iconic baobab tree

Lead researcher Professor Stephan Woodborne, from the Pretoria University’s Mammal Research Institute, said scientists were able to date baobab trees very accurately using radio-carbon dating. And because baobabs can grow for over a thousand years, they can provide researchers with a rainfall record spanning centuries.

According to Woodborne, most records of rainfall patterns in South Africa date back to about 50 years, with only a few going back 100 years. He said this was not a long enough time to understand the climate system. He added: “When you look at rainfall variability over 1000 years it is possible to pick out what is driving the rainfall variability and how the rainfall systems are responding. We can see the impact of the temperature of the ocean in the Agulhas Current, for example, and the effect of El Niño, and other influences.”

Woodborne said the project started in 2008 when a baobab fell over in the Pafuri area, in the north of the Kruger National Park, and provided researchers with a good sample. “Subsequently we learned of a team that was working on baobabs and we partnered with them using the cores that they removed from baobab trees to procure more samples and get a robust climate pattern from the trees,” Woodborne said.

Woodborne explained that the process by which plants took carbon dioxide and water in and out through the leaves and roots was regulated by the availability of moisture. This, and the trees’ growth rings, showed how much rainfall there was since the time it formed. By measuring the carbon ratio in all the growth rings of a tree, the researchers can gather a record of rainfall over the course of the tree’s lifespan.

Oil-Based Products – the Future of Natural Skin Care?

We were recently searching the web for excellent natural skin care products and intelligent info and came upon a UK company, Herbjar.

Read this great blog from 2010 that is coming true today. And check them out

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The latest issue of Women’s Health features an article with the title “Don’t be Scared of Oil Based Products”. Fifteen years ago this was unthinkable. But I’m not going to claim I’ve spotted a new  trend here – far too late for that since the story is already out for all to hear.

Instead I’m going to ask: How big is the oil based cosmetics market going to get? I for one will venture to place a bet on this answer: “really big” and this is why: The oil and water emulsion, which has been our typical moisturiser for many decades now, relies on emulsifiers (how else can you get the oils and water to mix?) and on preservatives to stop the emulsion becoming a paradise for all kinds of bacteria, moulds and fungi. To date, the cosmetic industry has not managed to find a functional natural emulsifiers or preservative – unless you count the “vegetal derived, processed”. More than that, there are some basic issues with these two groups of substances:

  • Emulsifiers make it possible for water and oil to mix by hooking a fat molecule at one end and a water molecule at the other. On the other hand, our skin works hard to maintain an orderly structure of fats in its deeper layer (the so called ‘skin’s intracellular matrix’). Disrupting the fat content of this matrix is thought to be a cause of skin dryness. If the emulsifiers we put into our skin via cosmetic products go around attaching themselves to the fats in our skin’s intracellular matrix, and binding them to alcohol and water molecules, it seems to follow that our skin will have to work even harder to repair its intracellular matrix.
  • The issue with preservatives is even more obvious: they are killers. Is it possible to create a substance that kills all bacteria while being totally harmless to living skin tissue?

Oil based cosmetics go round the problem by leaving water out altogether. Emulsifiers become totally unnecessary. As for preservatives, products that consist exclusively of oils can only degrade through oxidation – all you have to do to preserve them is pack them full of antioxidant, which are great ingredients for the skin too.

There is a good chance the natural cosmetics market will be divided along this line:
1. The almost-natural stuff in which all ingredients are natural except the emulsifier and the preservative
2. The oil based products which can be formulated to be 100% natural.

I won’t rule out the 100% natural cosmetic emulsion as a possible future achievement of the cosmetic industry, after all there are some ingenious chemists out there and the prize is worth it. Nevertheless, after carefully weighing the facts, I have put the water deionizer into storage and I’m placing my bet on oil based cosmetics. For now.

The Elephant in the Room?

People love Kruger National Park (South Africa). Well, most people… as the photo shows, not everyone falls in love with the local wildlife!

Kruger is a phenomenal park, five million acres in size with an incredible array of fauna and flora: over three hundred species of trees, 507 species of birds, 147 species of mammals, and the list goes on. The park shows man’s interaction with the Lowveld environment over many centuries – from bushman rock paintings to majestic archaeological sites, like Masorini and Thulamela.
Visitors to the park can plan on hiking, biking, camping, or – for the less adventurous – driving through the park or staying at comfortable lodgings. For a special treat, go on a game drive. These are offered in the morning, sunset, and night, and all offer great opportunities to see animals at different times during their daily routines.
We look forward toward returning to this magnificent park!

The Business of Natural Hair


Thanks to a global movement towards natural hair, many women have stopped using relaxers and other harmful products to straighten and maintain their hair. These days, hair-conscious women are looking for ways to moisturise and wash their hair with natural, sulphate-free products.

A dearth of such products on the South African market inspired Taryn Gill to start The Perfect Hair. Her products are produced with the help of a trichologist, which is someone who studies the science of hair. Using unique and organic African oils like African Melon Seed oil and Mongongo oil, Taryn says her products cater for all hair types, including the really coily hair that most South African women have.

Taryn says she spent almost two years researching her market and products to ensure that she met the unique needs of each client, whether they have wavy or curly hair, as well as those with kinky coils.

Now I lay me down to sleep…

As the traditional marula season launches, Swaziland Railways (SR) has warned people not to sleep on the railway line after drinking the traditional marula brew to avoid train accidents.The company operating trains observes that there are more accidents where people are crushed by trains after falling asleep on the railway line, especially around this time of the year and in the rural areas where Marula brew is common. In a media statement issued Thursday SR Communications Officer Mavela Vilane says their research has shown that most people who die on the railway line are either sleeping or they miscalculate and cross the rail when the train is very close. The Marula season is also marked with excitement nationwide as two Royal events take place where women’s regiments brew marula and take it to their Majesties in two Royal Palaces at Buhleni in the Hhohho region and Hlane in the Lubombo region over a period of three weeks.

Swaziland: Buganu season officially starts

Star Africa: January 11, 2016

The persistent heat waves due to drought El Nino has brought the traditional marula season back as the first fruits have been brewed in some parts of the country after they matured earlier than usual. This means it’s time for the first fruits to mature and the drink will be widely available.The fruit of the marula, which is usually ready in March ahead of a week-long Marula dance ceremony attended by King Mswati III, has huge financial benefits for the women in the rural areas with the ability to exploit the whole fruit.
Most instances saw the brew being sourced from the rural areas to be resold in the urban areas in varying states of dilution and prices.By the time it gets sold in the tavern and shebeens on the outskirts of town, it is usually diluted with a melon or watered down and enhanced with sugar for further fermentation, causing drinkers to act in all manner of waywardness due to the very high alcoholic content.After the drink has been sold, the kernels are collected, dried and sold to Swazi Secrets in Mpaka, a company manufacturing skin care products, which is an initiative by the Queen Mother.

Food aid, baobab on the menu as Zimbabwe struggles with drought

By REUTERS (Thomson Reuters Foundation)
Reporting by Andrew Mambondiyani
Editing by Megan Rowling

Elliot Nzarayebani, a farmer in Zimunya, a small community near Mutare city, expects to have to rely on food handouts due to the drought ravaging his maize. “Crops are wilting right in front of our eyes. The situation is desperate,” said the 45-year-old father of four.

The maize planted in November in this part of eastern Zimbabwe is wilting fast, while some crops planted in late December never even germinated. “We are not expecting much help from our government because it’s broke,” said Nzarayebani. “We hope NGOs will chip in with food aid for us to survive through the year.”

There is fear and anxiety among Zimbabwe’s farmers as the country faces yet another damaging drought. This time around, experts attribute it to the El Niño weather phenomenon that has delayed the onset of the rains in several southern African countries.

Zimbabwe is still smarting from a drought that hit farmers in the 2014/15 season, wiping out half the country’s maize crop, the main staple food. This year the drought is predicted to be worse, and farmers’ organisations are reporting that maize crops in some parts of the country are already a write-off.

Even though El Niño has been in the news in recent months, many people in remote rural areas are unaware of it and have been caught off-guard. “Who’s El Niño?” Nzarayebani asked blankly.

El Niño occurs when the surface waters of the Pacific Ocean warm, altering rainfall patterns worldwide. Zimbabwe has a 70 percent chance of experiencing drought under El Niño conditions, experts say.

Droughts have become recurrent in Zimbabwe since a devastating dry spell in 1991/92 that killed over 1 million cattle, according to the country’s agriculture ministry. A drought in 1997/98 also hit livestock and crops badly, leading to food shortages that triggered riots.

This year the hardest-hit provinces include Manicaland, Masvingo, Matabeleland South, Midlands and Mashonaland West. In some areas, temperatures soared as high as 43 degrees Celsius (109.4°F) between September and January.

In Mutasa district, Manicaland province, most of the early planted maize crop was wilting in January. “We are no longer expecting any harvest,” said one farmer from the district, Claris Mutasa.

In parts of Manicaland, some families have already resorted to eating baobab fruits. “We go for up to four days without a proper meal,” said Joseph Mtisi from Gudyanga in Chimanimani district. “People here are surviving on porridge made from baobab fruits, but the fruits are running out too.”

Mtisi is one of many trying to earn a living by selling baobab fruit and mats made from baobab bark to motorists along the Mutare-Masvingo highway in Manicaland. Bulawayo South legislator Eddie Cross told the Thomson Reuters Foundation the situation is set to become “critical”.

The agricultural expert and economist said 2.7 million tonnes of maize will be required for national consumption from January 2016 to June 2017. The national grain reserve, the Grain Marketing Board, has 150,000 tonnes in stock, while the private sector has 119,000 tonnes, and has committed to import 90,000 tonnes. Maize production in the 2015/16 season is now estimated at 200,000 tonnes, Cross said.

That translates into an expected supply shortfall of over 2 million tonnes, or 120,000 tonnes a month, he added. The total cost of imports through to June 2017 is estimated at around $870 million. “It will put a severe burden on our foreign exchange earnings,” Cross said. Incomes in Zimbabwe are low and declining, and ordinary people will find it difficult to pay for maize meal at prices 70 percent higher than last year, he added. However, Zimbabwe’s Agriculture Minister Joseph Made was quoted in local media as saying the government would allocate $260 million to import between 500,000 and 700,000 tonnes of maize.

“It is the government’s responsibility to be the main supplier of food,” Made was quoted as saying in the state-owned newspaper, The Herald.

The Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee expects that 1.49 million people will be food insecure from January through March, up from 0.56 million last year, according to a U.N. update. Zimbabwe imported maize from Malawi, Zambia and South Africa in 2015, but with these countries also experiencing drought, the government is now planning to import the staple from Brazil.

Walter Chidhakwa, Zimbabwe’s minister for mining, told a meeting of the ruling party Zanu PF in January that the government would identify a basket of minerals – likely to include diamonds and gold – over the next six months that could be sold to establish a chest of funds to import food.

But not everyone agrees that the government will be able to come to the rescue of small-scale farmers like Nzarayebani.

“Support from donors is going to be critical,” said legislator Cross. “The government cannot play a significant role as it does not have resources.” 

Read more:

Marula nuts are growing SA’s rural entrepreneurs in a win-win partnership with scientists and conservationists

Elisabeth Goyvaerts
“Science in Africa”
Rural South Africa is characterized by high unemployment often reaching above 85 and even 90%, limited skills, persistent poverty and a bleak economic outlook. Finding ways to ramp up the ability of rural populations to derive economic benefit from natural resources, and in a sustainable way is viewed as a key driver to bring real change to disenfranchised communities.
But taking the leap into entrepreneurship is a rather large one.  Can natural rural resources be translated into an economically viable sector?  The lack of appropriate technology and understanding of markets can make that leap even greater.
Among the many indigenous drought tolerant trees, Marula, Sclerocarya birrea subsp caffra, stands out. It is an abundant multipurpose tree,
growing wild from Senegal and South Sudan in the north to northern Namibia and northern KwaZulu Natal in the south. Virtually all parts of the tree has been utilised in some way. Animals eat the leaves and fruit. Bark is often used for medicinal purposes and its wood can be used for making drums. Marula is a prolific bearer. While the average fruit volumes per tree are just below half a ton, fruit fall of 1 to 3 tons below massive marula trees have been reported in just one season.
During the fruiting season, women in particular in rural areas often collect fallen fruit from underneath the tree and brew an alcoholic beverage known as marula beer. Some households dry and store a portion of nuts to crack manually and eat, use as relish or as a source of grease for cooking.
Photo credit:
Taking a peek inside the marula nut is where the real value lies. The nuts harbor a kernel or seed that contains around 65% oil. And marula oil is a rather high value oil, sought-after in the cosmetics industry.  Marula is however a tough nut to crack. A rapidly growing demand for novel natural oils and the enduring demand of the cosmetic industry for the same represents an obvious market sector. 
Enter Everpix a company with a plan. After a few years of design and redesign, scientists at Everpix developed a cunning multistep process for cracking the marula nuts in a simple process to extract the elusive marula oil.  The process was designed in such a way that it could be scalable, easily replicated and can be adapted to extract oils from other raw materials.
Technology still needs people and with the technology in place, community work and meaningful partnering, training and setting up of benefit sharing is critical. The young company slowly set up a community network in parts of South Africa to supply sufficient nuts to turn this into economic benefit for participating communities.
In its impressive 2012/3 pilot, the company, working with community partners, on average doubled the income of 275 households in 52 communities for one month. It achieved this while not taking  extensive time away from vital subsistence activity.
With proof in hand, Everpix has set itself the goal of further increasing the income per household, replicating the process to other communities in South Africa so that in 3 to 8 years participating households can secure a respectable annual income every year.
Photo credit:

That is just one part of the equation. Sustainability for the environment and for future production is key. Everpix found a natural partner in the African Conservation Trust, experienced in community natural resource management and conservation agriculture.  The team set out a plan which seeks to plant trees and also train communities in conservation agriculture securing future partnerships.  The add-on is that planting trees helps mitigate climate change and in itself has the potential to create employment in rural areas of South Africa.

Partnering industry with rural communities makes sense linking rural resources to global markets in a move which benefits people, the planet and creates a healthy profit. Some quick calculations project that one tree could provide an income of ZAR1000. Considering that marula trees reach maturity in 5 – 8 years, planting 30 trees around a rural home is an investment which could provide significant incomes for one household feeding up to six people. Encouraging results with a strong goal.