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: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/wires/reuters/article-3404572/Food-aid-baobab-menu-Zimbabwe-struggles-drought.html#ixzz3xhULc717

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: ScienceinAfrica.com
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: ScienceinAfrica.com

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.