Baobab Magic with Dr. Sarah Venter | iinfo TZANEEN

It’s no secret that baobabs are magical trees. One must only look at a baobab — its massive, ancient, gnarled trunk, its lace-like branches, its striking silhouette against the setting sun — to know this is an iconic African plant.
 
But the baobab’s magic lies in more than just its looks. Baobab fruit — the big, fuzzy beige pods that collect on the ground beneath the tree’s branches — is one of the most nutritious and useful substances that grows in Africa. Baobab fruit was a staple food source in Southern Africa for thousands of years, and has only recently faded in popularity with the rise of industrial agriculture.
 
Dr. Sarah Venter, a trained ecologist and the founder of EcoProducts in Louis Trichardt, has devoted her career to reviving and leveraging the power of the baobab.
 
Sarah has always been passionate about her community and its role in the natural world. Born and raised in the northernmost part of South Africa, where baobabs thrive, Sarah speaks fluent Tshivenda and conducted her Ph.D. research at Wits University on the ecology of baobabs. Sarah has used her knowledge and background to found EcoProducts, a baobab fruit processing facility that produces baobab powder and oil. 
 
Harnessing the Power of the Baobab
 
Baobab trees cannot be “farmed”; they must grow for 200 years before producing fruit. The trees also tend to grow in very remote areas, making it a challenge to gather the fruit. So, Sarah has created a unique business model in which local Venda women collect baobab fruit pods in their own communities and sell the pods to Sarah for cash. The pods are then transported to the factory where the fruit is cracked open, packed, and processed within a few hours.  
 
As long as the baobab pods are not cut open, the fruit inside lasts for a year without any preservation. The processed powder does not need any preservatives or other additives, as there are no microbes inside the pods. Baobab fruit is considered a “super food”, packed with vitamin C, magnesium, dietary fibre, and four times more calcium than milk. EcoProducts’ baobab powder can be used in shakes, smoothies, baked goods, and even as a crispy coating for meat. 
 
The inside of the baobab fruit is also filled with seeds, which the EcoProducts’ staff crush and cold-press into oil. Baobab oil is an effective treatment for the skin, and Sarah has now created a line of baobab oil products called BaoCare. BaoCare formulates baobab oil with a variety of other natural ingredients to make treatments for dryness, eczema, acne, ageing, and a wide variety of other skin conditions.  
 
Community Impact
 
The best part of Sarah’s business is its positive impact on the people who work with her. EcoProducts works with more than 800 baobab fruit harvesters — mostly women — in some of South Africa’s most remote rural areas, and the money they earn from harvesting fruit has an empowering effect on the entire community. 
 
Sarah has also created the Baobab Foundation which, among other things, promotes the growth of new baobabs by training baobab fruit collectors to become “Baobab Guardians”. These guardians learn how to plant baobab seedlings in their own communities and are given a stipend to protect the plants until they grow to three metres, when the trees are large enough to fend for themselves without watering or protection from goats and other grazers. 
 
The Baobab Foundation seeks to educate the public about the importance of protecting baobabs and our natural environment more generally. The foundation recently published a book, called the Little Big Baobab Book, which provides easily digestible information about baobabs for children and adults. The book can be downloaded online.
 
The EcoProducts processing facility is at 3 Van Der Lith Street, Louis Trichardt. Call 079-392-6072 or email info@ecoproducts.co.za. The EcoProducts baobab powder and BaoCare skin products can be purchased onsite and are also available at health food stores and pharmacies around South Africa and the world. Learn more at www.ecoproducts.co.za and www.baocare.co.za. Learn more about the Baobab Foundation at www.baobabfoundation.co.za. 
 

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