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Winners and Losers in Forest Product


Marula Commercialisation for Sustainable Livelihoods

An overview of current knowledge on

Sclerocarya birrea (A. Rich.) Hochst.
subsp. caffra (Sond.) Kokwaro
with particular reference to its importance as a non-
timber forest product (NTFP) in southern Africa

Prepared by Sheona Shackleton, Caroline Sullivan, Tony Cunningham, Roger

Leakey, Sarah Laird, Cyril Lombard, Myles Mander, Thiambi Netshiluvhi,
Charlie Shackleton, and Rachel Wynberg

August 2001

This publication is an output from a project funded by the UK Department for

International Development (DFID) for the benefit of developing countries. The views
expressed are not necessarily those of DFID.
2.1 Taxonomy and species description T. Cunningham 1
2.2 Properties of the fruits, kernels, oil and other plant parts C.Lombard and S.
Shackleton 2
3.1 Habitat requirements 7
3.2 Densities 7
3.3 Growth rates 8
3.4 Fruit production 9
3.5 Ecosystem functions 10
3.6 Potential ecological impacts of use 10
3.6.1 Harvesting of fruits 11
3.6.2 Harvesting of other components 11
4.1 Subsistence use and informal sector trade - S. Shackleton 12
4.1.1 Use and local trade in fruits and kernels and their derivatives 12
4.1.2 Use and trade in carving wood 17
4.1.3 Use of other S.birrea products 18
4.2 Cultural and ritual importance of marula T. Cunningham 20
4.2.1 Beliefs and biological factors: fecundity, symbolism and ancestor spirits 20
4.2.2 Community, ceremony and marula beer 22
4.2.3 The social function of marula beer
Wynberg and M. Mander
6.1 Tenure, access and management S. Shackleton and R. Wynberg 31
6.2 Policy and legislation R. Wynberg 33
Wynberg and S. Laird
8.1 Early use, local knowledge and domestication 36
8.2 Intellectual property rights and benefit-sharing 37
8.3 International transfers of S. birrea germplasm 39
8.4 Patents 40
8.5 Future possibilities for intellectual property rights 40
Appendix 1: Consumptive and non-consumptive uses of S. birrea - S. Shackleton 53
and T. Netshiluvhi
Appendix 2: Photographs Tony Cunningham 57


The literature on marula, Sclerocarya birrea, is substantial, and covers a wide range of issues. This
review has been produced as part of the research activities of a project funded by the UK Department
for International Development (DFID), to look at the distributional impacts of commercialisation of
non-timber forest products.

Use of the marula tree has been important for humans for centuries, and continues to be so today.
Communities have developed techniques of using many parts of the tree, and this knowledge is well
distributed throughout southern Africa in particular. By examining the different ways that these
products have been, and are being incorporated, into commercial processes, we gain a better
understanding about which groups of stakeholders are likely to receive the benefits of such
commercialisation, and which ones may bear the costs.

From the lessons learned from this study of S. birrea, we will be able to draw together some insights
into how the commercialisation process may be best managed to ensure equitable and sustainable use.
With this in mind, we plan to use the outputs of this component of the project to produce best practice
guidelines for the exploitation and management of non-timber forest products, and we will be testing
these in the context of the utilisation of the crabwood species, Carapa guianensis, which is widely
used throughout Amazonia.

This review, which brings together the effort of many scientists, provides a comprehensive account of
work done so far to understand the biophysical, ecological and biochemical characteristics of the
species, as well as its importance for humans.


2.1 Taxonomy and species description

The marula, Sclerocarya birrea (A.Rich.) Hochst, is one of the 650 species and 70 genera of mainly
tropical or subtropical evergreen or deciduous trees, shrubs and woody vines found in the family
Anacardiaceae. There are four species of Sclerocarya (Mabberley 1993), a genus named for its hard
seed (or "nut"): Sclero = hard, carya = walnut. All are African, with S. birrea the most widely
distributed while other species, such as Sclerocarya gillettii, a Kenyan endemic, have a much narrower
distribution. In keeping with the widespread cultural use of the species, the species name birrea is
derived from birr, a local West African name for the tree (Palmer and Pitman 1972).

S. birrea is typical of the family Anacardiaceae in several ways, including resin ducts in the bark,
dioecy and the production of fleshy fruits by female trees. Although S. birrea is usually considered a
dioecious species, occasional trees with male flowers may bear a few female flowers. For example,
Baijnath (1983) found that out of a random sample of 119 trees, 104 (87.4%) were dioecious, with the
remaining 15 (12.3%) being predominantly male flowered with a few female flowers on the lowermost 1
- 2 inflorescences. Neither von Teichmann (1982) nor Baijnath (1983) have found bisexual flowers.

Like S. gillettii (Beentje 1994) and some well-known crop plants in the Anacardiaceae, such as the
mango (Mangifera indica) and mombin (Spondias), marula fruit pulp is edible. In addition, like fellow
Anacardiaceae, such as the cashew (Anacardium occidentale) and pistachio (Pistacia vera), S. birrea
produces edible nuts. Three subspecies of S. birrea are recognized:

Sclerocarya birrea subsp. caffra (Sond.) Kokwaro, the focus of this study. This subspecies is the
most ubiquitous and occurs in east tropical Africa (Kenya, Tanzania), south tropical Africa
(Angola, Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe) and southern Africa (Botswana,
Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland) and is also recorded from Madagascar (Flora Zambesiaca
1960, Fox and Norwood Young 1982, Arnold and de Wet 1993, SEPASAL 2001). The southern
end of its range is the coastal belt of southern KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa near Port Shepstone at
approximately 310 S. Within South Africa, it is also common in the savanna areas of northern
KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, Northern and North-west Provinces. Outside of South Africa it
occurs in open, deciduous savannas in Swaziland, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana and
Sclerocarya birrea subsp. multifoliolata (Engl.) Kokwaro. This subspecies occurs in mixed
deciduous woodland and wooded grassland in Tanzania (Flora of Tropical East Africa 1952).
Sclerocarya birrea subsp. birrea which occurs through west, north-east and east tropical Africa
across a range of vegetation types, principally mixed deciduous woodland, wooded grassland and
through the open dry savannas of Northern Tropical Africa and the Sahelian region.

While the last two subspecies respectively have one and two synonyms, S. birrea subsp. caffra has six
synonyms: Sclerocarya caffra Sond., Chemiphar subglauca Engl., Poupartia caffra (Sond.) H. Perrier,
Sclerocarya schweinfurthiana Schinz, Sclerocarya caffra Sond. var. dentata Engl. and Sclerocarya
caffra Sond. var. oblongifoliata Engl. (Arnold and de Wet 1993).

S. birrea subsp. caffra trees are deciduous reaching 7 17 m in height. The fruit size is variable, but
is roughly plum-sized. Marula fruits abscise before ripening; at this stage the skin colour is green and
the fruit is firm. The ripe fruits have a thick yellow peel and a translucent whitish flesh. Although

Watt and Breyer-Brandwijk (1962) describe the outer skin as having "a pungent apple-like odour" and
marula pulp flavour as a mixture of "litchi, apple, guava and pineapple", the fruit size and flavour
vary from tree to tree. This is well known to local people in southern Africa, whether subsistence or
commercial farmers. In Northern Province, South Africa, for example, Pedi people recognize three
varieties of marula trees and fruit based on the scent and flavour of the fruit:

morula o mobose which bear sweet, palatable fruits. Quin (1959) records this category of female
trees as commonly being surrounded by thorn-brush fencing to prevent fallen fruits from being
eaten by livestock or game animals;
morula wa gobaba where the fruits are sour and unpopular; and
morula wa go nkga which bears fruits which are disliked due to their "objectionable odour".

The above example of fine differentiation of fruit types in the Pedi terminology reflects the social
importance of this species, as do four additional widespread features which typify the folk taxonomy
of S. birrea subsp. caffra in southern Africa. Firstly, the widespread use of the same term for the tree
across many southern and south-central African languages (which have been adopted as loan words
into the Afrikaans and English names for the species). Examples of this are the names marula or
morula used for the tree in Lovedu, Pedi and Tswana (and the closely related terms muua in KiKamba
and mura in the Meru language in Kenya), umganu in siNbebele, Zulu and siSwati and omwoogo (or
omyoongo pl.) in KwaNayama Owambo in Namibia and muongo in Gwembe Thonga in the Zambezi
valley (with closely related terms in East Africa, such as mngongo in kiSwahili, Digo, Pare and Zara)
and the related names mfula (ChiChewa and Yao) in Malawi and mpfura (Shona) in Zimbabwe and
mafula (Venda) in South Africa. Secondly, that a species-specific name is sometimes given to the
marula kernel rather than the general name for "kernel". An example of the differentiation of marula
kernels are the terms ongongo (s) eegongo (pl.) in KwaNyama Owambo (Rodin 1985) instead of
exuku, the general name for a kernel. In other cases, the common name for a kernel is retained (such as
umongo for the marula kernel as well as general term in Zulu). Thirdly, the use of S. birrea as a
reference point in folk classification of similar looking trees also in the Anacardiaceae, such as Lannea
schweinfurthii (umganu-nkomo (Zulu), False Marula (English), Baster maroela (Afrikaans)) and
fourthly, as would be expected from local people's observation of fruit-bearing (female) and non-fruit
bearing mature trees (males), the common recognition of S. birrea dioecy, with the analogy to female
trees as "cows" and males as "bulls".

2.2 Properties of the fruits, kernels, oil and other plant parts

Since the recognition of S. birrea as an important food source for rural communities (see Section 4),
there has been much interest in investigating the nutritional value of a range of marula products.
Considerable research has been conducted over the years on the properties of S. birrea fruits, juice,
nuts and oil, with some of the earliest references dating as far back as1906 (e.g. Ingle 1906-07 cited in
Quin 1959, Krige 1937, Fox and Stone 1938, Carr 1957, Quin 1959, Wehmeyer 1966, Wehmeyer
1967, Engelter and Wehmeyer 1970, Burger et al. 1987, Weinert et al.1990, Leakey 1999, Zharare &
Dhlamini 2000). During the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s the National Food Research Institute of CSIR
in South Africa carried out extensive analyses on marula fruits and seeds as part of a wider research
programme investigating the nutritional content of indigenous food plants. Outputs of this programme
included a paper by Engelter and Wehmeyer (1970) on the fatty acid composition of marula along
with four other indigenous oil-bearing plants, a comparison of the nutrient composition of various wild
fruits (Weymeyer 1966, 1967), and a paper by Burger et al. (1987) which constitutes the seminal work
on marula oil to date. The latter made innovative use of a then novel accelerated method to determine
resistance to oxidation, and usefully worked with samples from several sites in South Africa
(including successive years 1985-6) and a sample from Namibia. The paper includes information on
the fatty acid composition of marula kernel oil, the oil and kernel content of marula nuts, comparison
of the average fatty acid content of marula kernel and olive oil, the oxidative stability of marula oil (in
comparison with olive, sunflower cotton and palm olein), the sterol and tocopherol content of marula
oil, total protein content of marula meal and kernels, and the amino acid content of marula kernel
meal. Weinert et al. (1990) also provide a useful review of available information on marula lipids
drawing on a range of sources including the Imperial Institute (1920), Salama (1973), Ferrao and
Xabregas (1960), Oliveira (1974), the abovementioned work of Burger et al. (1987) and Engleter and
Wehmeyer (1970).

Similarly, analysis of the medicinal properties of various plant parts has also received attention
(Galvez et al. 1991, Galvez et al. 1992, Galvez et al. 1993, Hutchings et al. 1996, Kubo and Kinst-
Hori 1999). More recent research on the properties of marula products has involved relatively
sophisticated biochemical analysis of the active properties of different marula products and derivatives
(e.g. Pretorius et al. 1985, Anderson et al. 1986, Trovato 1995, Fatope et al. 1993, Mhlongo 1997,
Mugochi et al. 1999, Thiongo et al. 2000). This work is not dealt with in this review.

Marula fruit and juice is extremely high in Vitamin C providing about 2 mg of Vitamin C per gram of
fresh juice. This is approximately four times the Vitamin C content of the average orange juice (Fox
and Stone 1938, Shone 1979). Other studies have obtained results from as high as 194 mg of Vitamin

C per 100 g of flesh (National Food Institute of CSIR cited in Shone 1979) to between 67,9 54 mg of
Vitamin C per 100 g of fruit flesh or juice (Quin 1959, Wehmeyer 1967). The latter values are
comparable to the Vitamin C content of orange juice but higher than that of other citrus juices (Quin
1959). It is this high anti-scorbutic value of the fresh fruit that makes it so important nutritionally and
accounts for the early observations of the ability of marula fruit to combat scurvy (Shone 1979). The
CSIR work also obtained a relatively high potassium content at 317 mg/100 g of fruit flesh (Shone
1979) compared to the 54.8 mg/100 g obtained by Wehmeyer (1967). The energy value of the fruit is
approximately 130 kJ per 100 g of fruit flesh (von Teichman 1983).

Marula kernels are rich in protein (28 31 % or 30.9 g/100 g), oil (56 61 % or 57.0 g/100 g),
magnesium (467 mg/100 g), phosphorus (836 mg/100 g) and potassium (677 mg/100 g) which
contributes to the importance of these nuts in the diets of some rural communities (see Section 3)
(Shone 1979, Arnold et al. 1985). Indeed, analyses indicate that marula kernels have a higher protein
and oil content than most other popular nuts (walnut, hazelnut, chestnut, almond) (Quin 1959). Other
important nutritional components include trace elements and vitamins such as iron, calcium, copper,
zinc, thiamine and nicotinic acid (Shone 1979, Arnold et al. 1985, Peters 1988). Fatty acids found in
the oil include palmetic acid (12 g/100 g fatty acid), stearic acid (9.2 g/100 g fatty acid), oleic acid
(69.9 g/100 g fatty acid) and linoleic acid (7.8 g/100 g) (National Food Research Institute of CSIR
cited in Shone 1979). Unlike other nut oils, marula oil is a poor source of Vitamin E due a high level
of B-tocopherol (Shone 1979). The nut consists of on average 90 % shell and only 10 % kernel,
making kernel and oil yields relatively low per fruit. However, the oil yield per kernel is high at 56 %
(Quin 1959, Shone 1979). The energy value of the kernel is approximately 2 699 kJ 2 703 kJ per 100
g of kernel (von Teichman 1983, Arnold et al. 1985), which is generally higher than most other
commonly consumed nuts with the exception of walnut (Quin 1959).

The special properties of marula oil provide it with considerable commercial potential. Cold pressed
marula oil has a light nutty flavour, and a fatty acid composition that can be compared to olive oil
(Burger et al. 1987). It has exceptional resistance to oxidative rancidity (traditional knowledge
sources, Burger et al. 1987, Rgheimer in prep., CRIAA SA-DC 1997 2001 unpubl. data, CRIAA
SA-DC/Leatherhead Food Research Association (LFRA) in prep.). However, marula oil is subject to
hydrolytic rancidity1 (Rgheimer in prep., CRIAA SA-DC 1997 2001 unpubl. data). Burger et al.
(1987) ascribed marula oils resistance to oxidation to its fatty acid composition. However, more
recent understanding of the role of fatty acid compositions to triglyceride stability (Dijkstra et al.
1998) suggests that this may not be the case, and this reason for the marula oil stability is no longer

Triglycerides attacked by moisture and enzymes to create free fatty acids and glycerol

accepted (L. du Plessis pers. comm., CRIAA SA-DC/LFRA in prep.). It is now suggested that some of
the minor components must also be contributing significantly to this commercially important property.

As part of commercialisation trials by CRIAA SA-DC in Namibia, marula oil was investigated as a
potential ingredient in cosmetic formulations (CRIAA SA-DC, 1997 2001 unpubl. data). The
cosmetic properties of marula oil were tested along with hemp seed oil, camelina oil, palm olein and,
an industry standard, sweet almond oil. The tests included skin hydration, transepidermal water
loss and increase in skin smoothness. Marula oil performed significantly well (Houghton 1999).

Marula oil has been successfully refined at both bench and commercial scale (CRIAA SA-DC 1997
2001 unpubl. data). Iodine values of 70-80, Free Fatty Acids <0.15 (% as oleic), Lovibond Colour
<20Yellow and < 5Red, Saponification Value 191, and Peroxide Value of 0 have been attained
(CRIAA SA-DC 1997 2001 unpubl. data).

Ethnobotanical studies and other research into the traditional uses of marula oil, carried out in southern
Africa over the passed century, clearly indicate that these properties of marula oil have been
appreciated and exploited by local populations for possibly thousands of years (Junod 1927, Krige
1937, Quin 1959, Palmer and Pitman 1972-1974) (see Section 3). In particular, the oxidative stability
of marula oil appears to have been utilised in the preservation of meat (A. le R.van der Merwe cited by
Palmer and Pitman 1972, L du Plessis pers. comm.).

The bark of marula contains tannins and traces of alkaloids and is therefore acts as an astringent and
coagulant (Shone 1979). The average tannin content is about 3.5 % but may rise as high as 20.5% in
October before the leaves emerge (Watt and Breyer-Brandwijk 1962, Shone 1979). It is these
properties that account for it use as a medicine. Tannins and flavonoids are present in the leaves, but
alkaloids, steroids or triterpenoids have not been detected (Hutchings et al. 1996). Extracts from dry
stembark have shown antibacterial activity (Hutchings et al. 1996).


There has been surprising little autecological research on S. birrea, in particular S. birrea subsp.
caffra, in southern Africa considering its ubiquitous distribution and household and commercial
importance. The data that are available, for example those on fruit production, tend to be highly
variable and often restricted to a few trees. Indeed, the same data, some of it very old, appears to be
cited repeatedly in the literature. This section attempts to summarise some of the work that has been
done on the ecology of S. birrea focusing on aspects relevant to the use of this species as a NTFP.

Much of the data presented draws on results from a much broader, in-depth study on the productivity
of savanna species in South Africa (Shackleton 1998, Shackleton in press).

3.1 Habitat requirements

Sclerocarya birrea subsp caffra can be found in a diversity of vegetation types typically, open,
deciduous savanna, but is also a component of semi-deciduous forest along the KwaZulu-Natal
seaboard of South Africa (Johnson and Johnson 1993).

No specific studies have been done on this species precise habitat requirements except in the Kruger
National Park (Jacobs 2001). Instead what exists is simply a collection of observations. In terms of
soils, S. birrea is reported from a wide variety of soils from deep sands on granite, to basaltic clays,
although a preference for well-drained soils has been commented upon (Lewis 1987). A key factor
limiting its distribution appears to be its sensitivity to frost (von Breitenbach 1965, Palmer and Pitman
1972, Johnson and Johnson 1993). Altitudinal range is from sea-level to 1 800 m. Mean annual
rainfall (MAR) ranges from 200 to 1 500 mm (Peters 1988), but more typically between 400 to
approximately 1 000 mm per annum (Shone 1979, Shackleton 1997, Peters 1988, Bandeira et al.

3.2 Densities

There has been no systematic appraisal of the densities of S. birrea throughout its range. The data that
do exist are largely a coincidental result from other work recording densities of all woody species for
vegetation mapping or characterisation purposes.

Shackleton (1997) undertook a detailed inventory of woody biomass based on random replicated
transects in three protected areas along a rainfall gradient in the central lowveld, South Africa. This
provided data on the highest absolute and relative abundance of S. birrea at intermediate rainfall (500
850 mm ) (Table 1). The proportion of adult trees was not determined, but could be calculated from
the data available.

Table 1: Abundance of S. birrea in protected areas across a rainfall gradient (MAR) in the central
lowveld (South Africa).

Locality MAR Density Basal area Biomass

Stems/ha % m2/ha % t/ha %
Arid 500 16.8 0.3 1.27 12.8 4.67 20.3
Semi-arid 670 107.5 1.9 1.35 15.6 6.22 30.7

Mesic > 850 37.7 0.2 1.22 8.7 5.22 12.6
* Note: stems/ha refers to stems, not individuals. A single tree may have > 1 stem, especially small
individuals (< 1 m tall).

In comparison, the density of mature trees in Timbavati communal lands in the same region was
reported by Shackleton (1996) to be 7.5 per hectare, whereas the density of all stems (not just adults)
was 41.9 per ha. This is similar to the 8 trees (> 2 m tall) per hectare reported by Lombard et al.
(2000) for Gottenburg communal lands in the Bushbuckridge region.

In the Lebombo mountains of Mozambique, Bandeira et al. (1999) reported a density of 37.5 stems
per hectare for individuals greater than 1.5 m tall. The average DBH was 17.1 cm. In Luangwa valley
(Zambia), Lewis (1987) undertook a complete population inventory and found a mean density of 14.8
trees per hectare, with a mean height of 7.6 m.

3.3 Growth rates

According to Johnson and Johnson (1993), height growth of newly germinated stems is approximately
70 cm per year, and that flowering occurs after four years. Shone (1979) reported that trees planted in
the correct environment and given ample water will increase in height by approximately 1 m per
year, with a range of 0.3 to 2.0 m depending upon the suitability of the local environment. These rates
are for trees planted in gardens. Under formal cultivation, growth rates can be accelerated. Van Wyk
and Gericke (2000) cite figures from Israel of 12-year old trees producing 500 kg of fruit per year.
Nerd and Mizrahi (1993) provide data from four-year old trees planted in Israel, with mean heights of
between 3 m and 6 m, circumferences of 40 - 58 cm, and with 25 % of the planted trees producing an
average of 27 kg of fruit.

In terms of wild populations, Shackleton (1997) monitored 44 individuals across 16 localities for five
years. There was a strong positive relationship (r2 = 0.206; p< 0.01; n = 44) between mean diameter
increment and stem diameter (Shackleton in press) summarised in the form:

Annual Diameter increment (mm) = -0.068 (basal diameter) (cm) + 4.54

Using this relationship, a 15 cm diameter tree has a mean annual increment of approximately 3.5 mm
per year while one of 30 cm diameter grows by 2.5 mm per year. On this basis, a 1 cm diameter
recruit will take 37 years to reach 15 cm diameter, or 87 years to attain a diameter of 30 cm.

3.4 Fruit production

Fruit production data for wild trees is scanty and often anecdotal. Some reports of numbers of fruits
per tree include:
Four trees at Zebedelia estate produced between 21 667 and 91 272 fruits each in the 1951/52
season, with an average yield of 550 kg (Quin 1959).
163 000 fruits produced by four trees at Zebedelia estate in Northern Province (Palmer and
Pitman 1972).
9 601 fruits or 270.3 kg from one tree near Tzaneen in the north-eastern Transvaal (Shone
226 000 fruits in one month (April) (not entire season) from 111 trees tagged trees in
Luangwa, Zambia (Lewis 1987).
2 000 fruits from one tree in the western Transvaal (Peters 1988).
An average yield across 11 trees in Botswana of 36 550 (ranging between 17 445 to 66 622 )
fruits or 550 kg per tree (SEPASAL 2000) , (Peters 1988).
Approximately 70 000 fruits per tree, or 570 kg (Roodt 1988).
Average of 35 000 fruits in the wild in Botswana (Taylor et al. 1996).
2 100 9 100 fruits in a season (Arnold et al. 1985).

The ratio of number of fruits to mass of fruits differs widely between these reports, indicating either
extremely wide differences in the mass of individual fruits, or relatively crude extrapolations of mass.

Shackleton (1997) marked 64 S. birrea trees across a range of sizes in 1993 at three protected sites of
increasing mean annual rainfall, and monitored fruit production over two growing seasons (1993/94
and 1994/95). Mean mass of fruit produced during the first season was 36.8 + 7.8 kg per tree. This
corresponded to 1 753 + 343 fruits, with a mean mass of 20.6 + 0.7 g. Production during the second
season was negligible, just a few fruit per tree, even at the wettest locality. Such a wide inter-annual
variation in the production of fruits represents a challenge to sustainable commercialisation initiatives,
as has been commented on for other non-timber forest products from semi-arid lands (Boffa et al.
1996). The yield per tree during the first season is an order of magnitude less than the figures cited
above, suggesting that they were measured from exceptionally large trees, or from exceptionally
productive trees, or during an above average season. Recent data of Todd (2000) for 122 trees
surveyed in the 1999/2000 season gave a mean yield of 17.4 kg of fruit per tree, although it was noted
that some fruit may have already been collected at some sites. During the 1993/94 season, the amount
of fruit produced was positively related to size of the tree (Shackleton in press)

3.5 Ecosystem functions

The importance of S. birrea to local rural human populations is well documented (see Section 4). It is
also important in the ecology of other plants and animals. It grows into a large tree, and is often a
community dominant comprising more than 20 % of total woody biomass (Table 1). Because of its
large size, it produces a large area with a cool sub-canopy environment. In arid and semi-arid areas
sub-canopy environments are key resource areas, being characterised by higher moisture and nutrient
levels than open environments. These conditions are conducive to different assemblages of sub-
canopy woody plants, grasses and forbs. Removal of a large dominant species may result in the loss of
these sub-canopy species.

The dominance and large size of S. birrea also make the crown of the tree an important habitat for
small vertebrates and invertebrates, as well as parasitic plants. S. birrea is the favoured host for
woodroses (Dzerefos 1996), which are important for the livelihoods of rural curio traders (see Section

Sclerocarya birrea is capable of producing large quantities of fruit (Section 3.4). Several vertebrate
and invertebrate species make use of the fruits. These include, elephants, rhinoceros, warthogs, kudu,
baboons, vervet monkeys, zebras, porcupines, and millipedes. There is no work on what proportion of
the diet or nutrient intake S. birrea contributes for these animal species. Foliage is browsed by
elephants, kudu, giraffe, nyala and domestic cattle (Palmer and Pitman 1972), as well as by at least
eight species of butterfly and moth larvae (Pooley 1993, Jacana 1997), including several emperor
moth (Saturniid) caterpillars2, some of which are a popular food in southern Africa. Palmer and
Pitman (1972) state that water-filled holes in the trunks of S. birrea are important breeding grounds for
mosquitoes, more so than any other tree species in the two million hectare Kruger National Park.

3.6 Potential ecological impacts of use

The many and varied uses of S. birrea complicates identification and estimation of potential impacts
of harvesting because of potential synergistic effects. Since (i) marula fruits have been harvested by
humans for centuries (see Section 4), and (ii) there has been no study of impacts resulting from
increased human population densities, or commercialisation, it is only possible to identify potential
areas for concern that require systematic and ongoing assessment in areas of high harvesting rates.

3.6.1 Harvesting of fruits
Lombard et al. (2000) stated that harvesting of fruit from marula does not present any direct
environmental risk. This may be the case, but needs further examination since fruit collection for
human use could potentially impact on the regeneration rate of the species. Data for other important
fruit species indicate that both situations are possible. For example, in his study on the impact of seed
harvesting on populations of the tagua palm (Phytelephus seemannii ) in Columbia, Bernal (1998)
found that over 80% of the seed could be harvested without negatively effecting the palm populations.
These tagua ("vegetable ivory") palm fruits have a higher economic value than marula fruits and are
easier to find - yet historical, high intensity collecting appeared to have had no long term effect. On the
other hand, research on other species, also with an apparent abundance of fruits, have indicated
declines in recruitment and altered size structure profiles over the long-term in the face of increased
harvesting (e.g. Boot & Gullison 1995, Peters 1999).

The fact that S. birrea germinates readily and can also be propagated via truncheons means that it
should be possible to readily replace stocks if fruit harvesting reduces recruitment in the long term,
although care should be taken to ensure the maintenance of genetic diversity by using materials of
very different origins. However, it is necessary that an early-warning system is in place to detect
such shifts and implement appropriate interventions before fruit supplies are reduced, with negative
impacts on local rural livelihoods and incomes. Thus, in areas where increasing commercialisation is
occurring or envisaged, it is necessary to (i) implement a simple and replicable monitoring system of
plant densities, recruitment and size profile, and (ii) a rational harvesting strategy that ensures an
acceptable proportion of fruits remain unharvested each year as a means of promoting recruitment.
Such unharvested fruits are also available for other vertebrates and invertebrate species that make use
of marula fruits.

3.6.2 Harvesting of other components

The real impacts of bark harvesting for medicines, and trunks and branches for carving, will vary
according to the frequency, intensity and extent of harvesting, at both the level of an individual tree,
and each population. Marula is a renewable resource, and consequently it is possible that some
proportion of the population, however large or small, can be harvested on a sustainable basis
indefinitely. Whether or not this can be achieved in practice depends upon a multitude of factors,
including social, economic and well as ecological. In situations where harvesting is unsustainable at
the local scale, there will be a decline in the size structure and density of trees over a period of time.
This will in turn impact on other species that make use of S. birrea. However, the main factors that

Saturniid caterpillars of the moths, Argema mimosae (green African moon moth), Gonimbrasia
belina (anomalous emperor or mopane moth), Usta terpsichore (cavorting emperor) and Usta sinope,
all feed on Sclerocarya birrea (Pinhey 1972, van Wyk and van Wyk 1997).

will have a negative impact on marula populations are: (i) the felling of the trees (e.g. for timber as
occurred commercially in South Africa (Shone, 1979)) and, (2) high mortality of seedlings (either due
to fire or through frequent, intensive browsing of the seedlings by livestock and wildlife).


Sclerocarya birrea trees and products have long formed an integral part of the lives, food security and
spirituality of indigenous communities living within the distribution range of this highly valued and
versatile species (e.g. Krige 1937, Quin 1959, Fox and Norwood Young 1983, Gomez 1988, SIDA
1992, Shackleton et al. 2000). Indeed, archaeological evidence indicates that this species has been
used from the earliest of times (see Section 8 for details).

This section explores the importance and value of S. birrea for rural households, focusing on the
southern African region. Two broad areas are reviewed. In the first section, the use of S. birrea for
material benefits such as food, medicines, carving wood and cash is assessed, whilst Section 4.2
explores the spiritual and cultural significance of this tree for a range of beliefs, rituals and
ceremonies. Appendix 1 summarises both the consumptive and non-consumptive uses of S. birrea. It
is of note that, despite extensive anecdotal and descriptive information on the use of S. birrea
products, there is very little quantitative data on household consumption rates and informal trade in
this species.

4.1 Subsistence use and informal sector trade

4.1.1 Use and local trade in fruits and kernels and their derivatives
Sclerocarya birrea fruit and nuts (see Section 1 for properties) form an important component of the
diet of rural people, and may contribute proportionately more to the daily intake of poorer families
(Liengme 1981, Cunningham 1988, McGregor 1995, Brigham et al. 1996, Cavendish 1999,
Shackleton et al. 2000). Fresh fruit is widely consumed, particularly by children (Cunningham 1988,
McGregor 1995, Cavendish 1999), providing a rich source of vitamin C. Fruits are also collected and
processed into juice, alcoholic beverages (wine and beer) and jam, extending the shelf life of the
product and prolonging availability and consumption beyond the two to three month fruiting season. It
has been reported that marula beer can be stored for up to two to three years if sealed in clay or plastic
containers and buried underground (Shone 1979, Shackleton et al. 2000). In West Africa, the juice is
boiled down to a thick black consistency and used for sweetening porridge (Dalziel 1948, Palmer and
Pitman 1961). The use of marula juice as an additive to variety of sorghum, maize and millet porridges
(Bog^bL Bja Marula) has also been recorded for the Pedi by Quin (1959).

Data from Bushbuckridge, South Africa indicate that S. birrea is amongst the most commonly used
wild fruit species, with 59 77 % of households reporting consuming marula fruits between four to
five times per week during fruiting season (Shackleton 1996, Shackleton et al. 2000). This figure does
not capture opportunistic consumption by children when they are away from the homestead, either
herding livestock or walking to and from school, so consumption rates are likely to be considerably
higher. In the same area, about 2 % of households were found to sell marula products, mainly beer and
kernels (Shackleton 1996). Similar high frequencies of fruit use for subsistence purposes (between 83
100 % of respondents) are reflected in unpublished data from northern KwaZulu-Natal, South
Africa, Inhaca Island, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe (Cunningham et al. unpubl.). Research on the use
of wild plants in the Goba area of the Lebombo Mountains, Mozambique also highlights the popularity
of marula for household use. Using pairwise ranking, S. birrea emerged, after Trichelia emetica and
Strychnos madagascarensis, as one of the most preferred fruit species out of a total of 34 species
(Bandeira et al. 1999). However, this popularity is not consistent across the region. In Malawi, for
instance, the fruit appears to be much less frequently used than in other southern African countries and
a study on indigenous fruit trees in this country indicated that S. birrea was not ranked as an important
species (Ngulube 2000, P. du Plessis pers. comm.). Similarly, in the Kavango region of Namibia, S.
birrea is sometimes used to make a distilled alcohol but almost never used for beer or juice. Fresh
fruits are never eaten in this region and the nuts are also seldom extracted (P. du Plessis pers. comm.).

Ireland (1999) working in Sekhukhuneland in Northern Province, South Africa (where Quin did his
work in 1959) found that households harvested an average of 36 kg of marula fruits per season in
Makua village, whilst the average household consumption rate was only 4.5 kg per season in
Manganeng. She attributed this difference to the much greater effort required to collect fruit in
Manganeng. In this village there are no S. birrea trees in or close to the village. The gross annual value
of marula fruit use was estimated to be US$41 and US$7 per household for each village respectively
(Ireland 1999). In both villages marula fruit was collected in greater amounts than any other wild
resource. Twenty five percent of households in Manganeng and 65 % of households in Makua were
purposively and systematically harvesting S. birrea fruits and other wild products for household use,
whilst the remaining households used these wild resources on an irregular and ad hoc basis.

A number of resource valuation studies have indicated that indigenous fruits, after fuelwood and wild
vegetables, contribute a significant proportion to the overall economic value of wild resources
consumed by households (Cavendish 1999, Shackleton and Shackleton 2000, Shackleton et al. in
press). In Bushbuckridge, South Africa most of the value of wild fruit, approximately US$30 per
household per year (Shackleton and Shackleton 2000), can be attributed to marula, and it is expected
that a similar pattern would apply in other areas where S. birrea is dominant. In another study in the

same region, the average annual value of marula products harvested from trees on home plots and
fields (i.e. land to which households have individual usufruct rights) was estimated at US$116 per
annum (High and Shackleton 2000). Approximately 40 % of households had retained or nurtured
marula trees on their land.

Marula beer is brewed by a majority of households (often more than eat the fresh fruit) and has been
shown to be key in building and maintaining social networks. It is commonly used for work parties, or
as a thank you for services rendered or anticipated (Gumbo et al. 1990, Shackleton et al. 1995,
Kadzere 2000). Men, in particular, argue strongly that the sharing of marula beer with friends and
neighbours helps to cement reciprocal relations and obligations. Indeed, the marula season coincides
with one of the few times of the year when most male migrant workers are home (Shackleton et al.
1995). Thus, drinking parties are not just social events, but a time for renewing relationships and
planning the year ahead. So popular is the beer, that in the past, certain communities had a ruling that
no man may carry arms during the beer season for fear of the damage he may do his neighbour whilst
under the influence of this intoxicating drink (Palmer and Pitman 1961). Further information on the
social and cultural functions of marula beer is presented in Section 4.2.

The process to brew the alcohol varies from region to region and between communities and ethnic
groups (Quin 1959, Shone 1979, Liengme 1981, ANU 1999). However, all methods follow the same
basic steps. The skins are slit with a knife or fork (often made from bone in the past) and the fruits
squeezed over a clay pot or plastic container to release the flesh and juice. Water is added and the
container placed in a warm place. The thick scum that forms on the surface is removed after one day,
and the fruits worked through again to remove the pips. The juice is then left to ferment in an airtight
container for a few days before it is ready to drink. In some cases the skins are left on the fruits at the
initial step and removed later (Liengme 1981). Sugar is sometimes added to speed up fermentation and
to sweeten the beer. Households sometimes reserve a portion of the brew, which is buried
underground and kept until Easter when the men come home again (Chiloane pers. comm.). The
sediment produced during the brewing process is reported to have aphrodisiac properties and may be
drunk by men to enhance their libido (Chiloane pers. comm.).

S. birrea nuts are processed by women for both home use and sale. The 2-3 nutritious oil and protein
rich kernels (see Section 1) known as k^k^ in Pedi (analogous to the word m^k^ for bone marrow),
eegongo in KwaNayama Owambo, and umongo in Zulu are extracted manually from the pips using a
range of techniques specific to different parts of the plants distribution range. On the sandy coastal
plain of the Ingavuma district, South Africa, decortication is achieved by cracking the nuts against a
stone slab, and then removing the kernels individually with a sharp needle-like tool (Cunningham
1988). The hard rock required for the hammer and anvil comprises volcanic rock from the

Lebombo mountains that is washed down onto the Pongola floodplain. People have been known to
carry these rocks to their homesteads as far as 40 km away. Persistent cracking results in pits in the
rock, which increase in number as some pits get too deep and new ones are started (see Figure 1,
Cunningham 1988). By contrast, in areas where households do not have access to hard rocks other
techniques are used. In parts of Namibia, the marula nuts are cracked against an axe blade (or other
large piece of iron) using a block of hard wood (e.g. Terminalia sericea). In other cases the opposite
action is used. An axe is used to cut open the operculum end of the pip whilst it rests on a wooden
block, and thereafter a small piece of metal, such as a flattened nail, is used to prise out the kernel
(Lombard et al. 2000, Cunningham pers. obs.). In some areas, e.g. Bushbuckridge, South Africa, the
nuts are boiled or heated in the fire prior to decortication (Lombard et al. 2000). This is said to make
extraction simpler as the lids of the fruit locules come off more easily (von Tiechman 1983). The sharp
tools used to extract the kernels (known as oluvela in KwaNyama Owambo, and modukulo or
modikola in Northern Province, South Africa) vary and may be made from metal, bone or a thorn
such as that of Acacia karoo (Figure 2).

Whatever the process used, hand extraction is a skilled and fairly arduous task as the shells are hard,
and if the kernels are to be sold, they need to be whole. Gumbo et al. (1990) recorded approximately
24 working hours to fill an 800 g tin with nuts. Research on the marketing of wild products in
Zimbabwe revealed that the S. birrea nut market was one of the few wild resource markets limited by
supply (Campbell and Brigham 1993, Brigham et al. 1996). It was pointed out that if technical
constraints on extraction could be overcome, this product had considerable market potential. However,
it is the difficult extraction process and high labour input that gives the kernels a relatively high value
on the market. Indeed, some stakeholders are concerned that improved technology could result in an
important value-adding step being removed from households to more centralised facilities (Lombard et
al. 2000).

Data on the use of the nut resource is very variable across the region. In some areas, kernels appear to
be little used despite their nutritional properties and potential cash value. For example, in Northern
Province, South Africa marula kernels were extracted and stored by only 11 % of households
(Shackleton et al. 2000). In Zimbabwe, McGregor (1995) found only one household (2 % of the
sample) that extracted S. birrea kernels, and this was on an occasional basis. In Kavango , Namibia the
nuts are almost never used (P. du Plessis pers. comm.). By contrast, marula nuts form an important
dietary supplement, especially for poorer and elderly households, on the sandy coastal plains of
Inhambane Province and Inhaca Island, Mozambique (Cunningham pers. obs., Cunningham et al.
unpubl.). On Inhaca Island 100 % (n = 40) of people interviewed indicated that they extracted and
consumed marula kernels. Similar high levels of use were found in Owambo, Namibia, Northern
KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa and Mbengarewa, Zimbabwe where 95 %, 97 % and 98 % of

households respectively made use of this resource (Cunningham et al. 1992, Cunningham et al.

Kernels are either roasted or eaten raw as a snack or mixed with wild herbs and served as a relish with
the main meal. Quin (1959) reports how the Pedi of Sekhukhuneland used marula embryos to flavour
a green leaf relish (M^r^go wa dik^k^). Kernels may also ground into a powder and mixed with
sorghum stew (Tsh^l^ le dik^k^) (Quin 1959) and soups (Peters 1988), or stamped to form a cake
which can be eaten alone (Peters 1988). The kernels can be stored for a number of months, and Krige
(1937) reports how the Phalaborwa of Northern Province subsisted largely on a diet of stored kernels
mixed with wild herbs or meat during the dry season. Cunningham (1985) mentions that the Thembe-
Tonga still store nuts, and that this becomes an important source of food in winter and drought years.
The nuts are often stored off the ground on raised platforms or in suspended nets (made of strings of
bark in the past) (von Teichman 1983). In Namibia oil is traditionally extracted from the kernel with a
pestle and mortar aided by careful use of small amounts of warm water (CRIAA SA-DC unpubl. data,
Botelle in prep.). The oil and cake thus prepared can be used for at least one year (Lombard per. obs.).

Other uses of the kernels include as a meat preservative (Palmer and Pitman 1972, Peters 1988,
Holtzhausen 1993) and as a source of oil for skin moisturiser (Coates Palgrave 1977, ANU 1999, van
Wyk and Gericke 2000). Traditionally, Zulu people reportedly crush the nuts and boil them with
water, skimming off the oil which they massage into the skin as a cosmetic (Coates Palgrave 1972). In
the past this oil was used to preserve and soften the traditional skin shirts (sidwaba) that they used to
wear (Watt and Breyer-Brandwijk 1962). A similar use was also observed in Namibia (Rodin 1985). It
is this indigenous knowledge that current marula oil commercialisation initiatives have built on (see
Section 1). Kernels have also been used as illuminants and apparently burn with a bright flame
(Palmer and Pitman 1961, SEPASAL 2001). The gift of kernels is considered a mark of great
friendship (Palmer and Pitman 1961).

Despite the key role played by marula and other wild fruits in rural households, there is evidence that
use may be declining in some areas in favour of exotic fruits (Gomez 1988, McGregor 1995). Wilson
(1989 cited in Clarke et al. 1996) suggested that a decline in the use of fruit and nuts of S. birrea in
Zimbabwe could be due to the absence of nut cracking technologies, and the same factor may explain
the reduction in the frequency of wild fruit porridges observed by McGregor (1995). However, such
declines in use can also be attributed to the increase in the availability of agricultural substitutes
(Clarke et al. 1996). By contrast, in Northern Province, South Africa wild fruits were consumed more
frequently than exotic fruits. Few families could afford the cost of purchasing commercially grown
fruits, and most had limited access to land and water to cultivate their own (Shackleton et al. 2000).
Overall, only 17 % of households in this region felt that dietary preferences were moving away from

indigenous fruits, although Hansen (1998) did record a statistically significant decline in wild fruit use
between the past (99 % of households) and present (77 % of households). This decline was
ascribed to the fact that children, as the primary gatherers of wild fruits, where now spending a
significant proportion of their time in school rather than roaming the bush (Hansen 1998). A decrease
in fruit tree abundance was considered another contributing factor (Shackleton et al. 2000). S. birrea
is, however, likely to continue to be important for beer brewing as there are few substitutes for the
uniquely flavoured beverage it produces.

Over the past few decades there has been a noticeable growth in the local (endogenous) trade of
marula and other wild products as household demands for disposable income increase (e.g. McGregor
1995, Brigham et al. 1996, Shackleton et al. 2000). Traditionally, across a range of ethnic groupings,
the sale of marula beer and other products was strictly taboo (also see Section 4.2). Whilst this appears
to have become largely redundant, there are still some areas, such as northern Maputaland in South
Africa, where such customary norms continue to be respected (Cunningham 1989). Cases in which
men have refused to allow their wives to sell beer have also been recorded (Shackleton et al. 1995).

Women are mainly involved in trading in marula products, and income from sales tends to be highly
variable (Shackleton et al. 2000). In Bushbuckridge, South Africa, Shackleton et al. (2000) found that
some 15 % of households surveyed were trading in various indigenous fruit (both processed and raw),
earning on average between US$87 and US$149 per annum. The principal fruits/fruit products sold
were from S. birrea, Strychnos madagascariensis and Strychnos spinosa and most trading took place
in summer (73 % of traders). The most profitable business reported an income of as much as US$820
per month for a limited period from selling S. birrea beer during winter (Shackleton et al. 2000).
There are clear indicators that trade in marula and other wild plant products is increasing. For
example, in the 2000/2001 marula season over eight marula beer stalls were observed on a 10-20 km
stretch of road between Bushbuckridge and Thulamahashe (S. Shackleton pers. obs.). Such roadside
vendors were rarely seen a few years ago. Beer was selling for slightly less than US$1 per 2 l bottle at
these stalls. A similar trend has been observed in Namibia. In the past marula beer was made only for
home consumption, but now can be found for sale in most street markets. Prices vary according to
location and proximity to the resource. For example, a litre of beer sells for US$0.23 (N$2) in rural
areas, US$0.37 (N$3) in urban markets within the production area (occasionally for US$0.62 (N$5)
early in the season or if very superior quality), and up to US$1 (N$8) in urban centres far from the
production area (P. du Plessis pers comm.). There are also reports of marula beer and wine being sold
in Zimbabwe (Gumbo et al. 1990), Swaziland (despite it being illegal) (Edje 2000) and the former
Venda, South Africa (Mabogo 1990). Kernels are also often sold and fetch much higher prices than
fruits on the local market at US$3.71/kg as opposed to US$0.02/kg for fruits (Shackleton and
Shackleton 2000). Although incomes from selling wild fruit products are generally low, they provide

an important source of cash for women and are often used to help pay school fees or purchase any
requirements children might need for school (uniforms, books) (Shackleton and Shackleton 1997).
Children also often sell wild fruits to neighbouring households or at school for pocket money, or
exchange fruits that they have collected for other food such as milk and meat.

4.1.2 Use and trade in carving wood

Marula wood has been traditionally used for carving pestles and mortars, bowls, drums, beehives and
stools (Dalziel 1948, Watt and Bryer-Brandwijk 1962, Mbuya et al. 1994, Clarke et al. 1996) and
even, in some areas (e.g. Malawi), for making canoes (Coates Palgrave 1956). In Madagascar the
wood is used to make ox wagon wheels (P. Phillipson pers. comm.). It is a soft, splinter free wood that
is easily carved, but tends to be susceptible to infestations of woodborer (Watt and Breyer-Brandwijk
1962, S. Shackleton pers. obs.), Lyctus beetle and sap stain fungi (Immelman et al. 1973). A survey of
S. birrea use in three southern African countries revealed that in Mbengarewa, western Zimbabwe 55
% of households were using marula wood to make utensils, whereas none in northern KwaZulu Natal
or Inhaca Island reported using the wood for this purpose (Cunningham et al. unpubl.). In the Mutanda
Resettlement Area, Zimbabwe, S. birrea formed one of the three most popular species for making
musical instruments (the others were Sterculia quinqueloba and Artabotrys brachypatalus) (Grundy et
al. 1993).

In the region bordering the Kruger National Park in South Africa, S. birrea forms the highest volume
of wood used in the growing local woodcarving industry (Steenkamp 1999). In 1998 approximately 33
cubic metres of marula wood entered the market (Steenkamp 1999). Trees are harvested to carve
animal figurines (giraffes, leopards and antelope) ranging in size from less than 30 cm to more than 2
m tall. These are sold mainly at the roadside to tourists (Steenkamp 1999). The carvers purport to use
only male trees, but local community members declare that female trees are also being harvested as
pressure on the existing resource base increases (Shackleton and Steenkamp submitted). This potential
conflict of interests is of concern to development workers in the region, particularly since marula fruits
are not just important for household consumption but are also being widely traded. The use of marula
for commercial carving has also been reported in Zimbabwe (Braedt and Standa-Gunda 2000).

There are various reports that S. birrea was used extensively during colonial times for manufacturing
tomato boxes and toilet seats (Palmer and Pitman 1961, Shone 1979). Other uses for the wood include
furniture, panelling, flooring, laminated products, box shooks and manufactured articles such as shoe
heels (Immelman et al. 1973) (also see Section 8).

4.1.3 Use of other S.birrea products
The shells of marula nuts are often used as kindling and are a good source of fuel (Lombard et al.
2000). Some women report that the hot nuts provide an effective heat source to use in coal irons
(Lombard et al. 2000). Dried nuts may also be used to make necklaces that traditionally symbolise
love (Chiloane pers. comm.).

Wood from male trees is sometimes used for firewood. Indeed, extension officers have been reported
to encourage the use of male trees for this purpose, in spite of customary laws that prevent felling
(Shackleton 1993). Quantitative work has indicated that the use of marula for fuelwood is relatively
high in some areas. For example, Cunningham et al. (unpubl.) found that 97 % of households in
Sihangwane, Northern Kwazulu-Natal were using marula for fuelwood, as were 65 % in Zimbabwe. In
the case of the latter, the wood was mainly used for firing bricks. By contrast, none of the people
interviewed on Inhaca Island were burning marula. In some parts of southern Africa removal of male
trees has been so severe that female trees have ceased to be productive and so are also felled (R.
Leakey pers. comm.).

The bark has medicinal properties and is used widely in treating dysentery and diarrhoea, rheumatism,
gangrenous rectitis, insect bites, burns and a variety of other ailments (Dalziel 1948, Watt and Breyer-
Brandwijk 1962, Khan and Nkanya 1990, Kokwaro 1993, Hutchings et al. 1996, Morris 1996,
Lombard et al. 2000, also see Appendix 1 and Section 1). In the Zomba district of Malawi an infusion
of the bark is used for treating coughs and throat infections (Morris 1996). Medicinal uses of the root
are also numerous. Decoctions, infusions or steam from boiled roots is used to treat heavy
menstruation, bilharzia, coughs, weakness (boiled and steam directed into the vagina), sore eyes
(boiled and steam directed into the eyes), heart pains and as an antiemetic (Gelfand et al. 1985).
Essence from the leaves provides a remedy for abscesses, spider bites and burns. The leaves are also
used as a sedative (Descheemaeker 1979). Both bark and leaves are said to have antiseptic and
astringent properties (Jenkins 1987, Khan and Nkanya 1990). Noristan did preliminary tests on crude
extracts of marula bark and found weak pharmacological activity in respect to hyper-tension, anti-
inflammation and pain killing (von Teichman 1983). The use of bark as a malaria prophylactic or cure
has been widely reported, although there is, as yet, no pharmacological evidence to support its efficacy
in malaria treatment (Watt and Breyer-Brandwijk 1962, Morris 1996, van Wyk and Gericke 2000).

As well as medicinal uses, there are reports of the bark being used as an insecticide in Tanzania (Khan
and Nkanya 1990). Venda women are said to use ground bark mixed with soft porridge to wean and
strengthen their babies (Mabogo pers. comm., Netshiluvhi pers. obs.).

The frequency of use and amounts of bark and leaves used for medicinal purposes appears to be
relatively low. It is rare to see S. birrea trees which have been damaged by bark stripping (C.
Shackleton pers. obs.), and Cunninghams et al. (unpubl.) survey revealed that only a relatively small
percentage of households use marula products for medicinal purposes (between 2 % and 48 %).
However, this is an area where almost no quantitative data exists.

The gum secreted by S. birrea is rich in tannin and is used to make ink by dissolving it in water and
adding soot (Dalziel 1948, Watt and Breyer-Brandwijk 1962, FAO 1995, ANU 1999). The San of
Namibia and Botswana use marula gum as a carrier for a poison made from crushed Polyclada beetle
larvae. This is applied to the tips of their hunting arrows (ANU 1999). In Northern KwaZulu-Natal
the bark of S. birrea is sometimes used for dying ilala palm leaves prior to weaving (van Wyk and
Gericke 2000) or fish nets (Pooley 1980). The colours obtained are generally shades of mauve, pink,
brown or red (van Wyk and Gericke 2000). Use of S. birrea bark for dye has also been reported from
Madagascar (Perrier de la Bathie 1946). In West Africa S. birrea ashes are used with those of other
species to dehair goat skin before tanning (Dalziel 1948).

Sclerocarya birrea is one of the primary hosts for the parasitic mistletoes that produce woodroses.
Woodroses are flower-like, woody outgrowths produced in response to the parasite. They are
harvested and sold as curios providing income to collectors (Dzerefos 1996).

The species is also host to a variety of butterflies and moths which produce large, edible saturniid
caterpillars (amaCimbi in Zulu) (Pooley 1980, 1993) (Section 3). These caterpillars are collected, their
skins spilt and the insides squeezed into a pot. The contents are then roasted and eaten. The
cerambycid wood-boring beetle larvae (Izi Mpunge in Zulu) that occur under the bark of S. birrea
trees are also commonly consumed (Cunningham 1985, Dalziel 1948, Pooley 1980, 1993). They are
found by tapping the tree until a hollow sound indicates a hole, which is then investigated and the
larvae extracted (Pooley 1980). These larvae are cooked in their own fat.

The fruits and leaves provide nutritious fodder for livestock especially during the winter months
(Holtzhausen 1993). The fruits are used by the Zulus as an insecticide particularly for destroying ticks
(SEPASAL 2001).

4.2 Cultural and ritual importance

4.2.1 Beliefs and biological factors: fecundity, symbolism and ancestor spirits
The first section of this review highlights some of the biological features of S. birrea in which specific
cultural practices are rooted The cultural importance of S. birrea is easy to understand. As has been

clearly illustrated in the preceding section, few African tree species have as many uses or are such
productive bearers of multi-purpose fruits. Quite literally, S. birrea trees are valued from the seedling
stage (as a palatable browse for livestock) to rotten stumps (a source of edible cerambycid larvae)
(Figure 3). Amongst these many uses of all parts of the tree, three factors, however, provide the basis
for the main cultural beliefs linked to S. birrea.

Firstly, and most important, the high fruit production of mature female trees (see Section 3). The
implications of this from a cognitive anthropological perspective are discussed later in this section.

Secondly, the dioecy of S. birrea. Amongst VhaVenda traditionalists in South Africa, for example,
powdered bark from male marula trees is used to "select" a male child and bark from a female tree for
a girl (Shone 1979, Mabogo 1990).

Thirdly, the pink colour of the inner bark and red phloem. Although not the bright red of Pterocarpus
angolensis sap, for example, the colour of S. birrea bark, coupled to the dioecy of this species, add to
the symbolic significance of S. birrea from a traditional African worldview. In many societies, red is
the colour of blood and is frequently related to pregnancy and menstruation (Berglund 1976, Knight
1991). It is not surprising therefore, that such a favoured fruit and kernel, should find a place in
traditional fertility rituals and first fruits ceremonies in southern Africa, particularly in landscapes with
sandy, low arable potential soils where seasonal food scarcity is common. From a traditional African
worldview, there are strong links between the fecundity and productivity of these female trees, of
farmed fields and of women. Gertsner (1939), who was an excellent linguist in fact suggested that the
Zulu name for S. birrea, umganu, was probably derived from the word gana, which means "to marry
or become betrothed" (Doke and Vilakazi 1964). Although active ingredients are found in S. birrea
bark and leaves which support some traditional medical uses, such as in treating diarrhoea (Hutchings
et al. 1996), the psychosomatic role of symbolism and ritual practice in health practices should not be
underestimated. Symbolic associations with S. birrea are a good example of this. Gerstner (1939), for
example, recorded the bark as being used "as a blood cleansing emetic before marriage". Amongst
VhaVenda people an infusion of S. birrea and Combretum kraussii bark is used to "support pregnancy
[and] for treating barrenness and illnesses related to fertility" (Mabogo 1990). In Zimbabwe, an
infusion of S. birrea roots are drunk to treat heavy menstruation (menorrhagia) (Gelfand et al. 1985).

Sclerocarya birrea herbal preparations are also widely used in southern Africa for their protective
function and in purification rituals (Gelfand et al. 1985, Shone, 1979). Amongst the Ndebele
community in Zimbabwe, for example, an infusion of roots and leaves is traditionally used to wash the
body of a person to prevent a malevolent spirit from possessing a member of the family (Gelfand et al.
1985). A similar protective use was recorded by Bryant (1909) nearly a century ago, where the

traditional healer, prior to treating an infectious disease (phagedaenic rectitis) commences by
fortifying himself against the danger [of infection] in that he bathes his body beforehand in a decoction
of umGanu (Sclerocarya caffra) bark. Shone (1979) also records a concoction of S. birrea bark as
taken internally during purification rites to remove defilement from food eaten in the house of
relatives where there has been a death without the performance of the necessary purification rites.

Although the protective function of an active ingredient may be involved (as Bryant (1909) suggested
on the basis of the reported use of S. birrea as an ascaricide and which has been cited many times
since then but not substantiated), the religious symbolic function of this ritual is more likely to account
for its protective and purification uses. Apart from the use of S. birrea in purification and protection,
the common factors are either the red/pink symbolism of the bark /roots or, more likely, the ritual
connection between a herbal medicine from S. birrea and ancestor spirits (who play a protective role).
This link to ancestral spirits is also shown in Zimbabwe, where S. birrea roots are mixed with
Tapinanthus twigs to make an infusion which is taken by mouth (and probably blown out) to call the
ancestor spirits (Gelfand et al. 1985). A S. birrea nut is also used as one of the Tsonga divination
dice apparently to represent the plant kingdom or herbal medicines (Watt and Breyer-Brandwijk
1962, Shone 1979). The strongest links between S. birrea and ancestor spirits however, are
demonstrated through rituals associated with brewing marula beer, through first fruits ceremonies and
traditional religious offerings made at S. birrea trees which are commonly used as family land shrines.

4.2.2 Community, ceremony and marula beer

As a result of religious and socio-economic change, first fruits ceremonies3 celebrated through
traditional African religion are no longer common in southern Africa. Formerly, they were widespread
and first fruits ceremonies linked to S. birrea have been recorded in Mozambique, South Africa and
Zimbabwe (Junod 1938, Watt and Breyer-Brandwijk 1962, Cunningham et al. unpublished). In
KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, for example, a specific song, the ingoma or ingoma yenkosi, was a
unifying event sung at a national occasion where ancestor spirits (amadlozi) were present. This is
described in detail by Krige (1936). Although the national first fruits ceremony no longer occurs
(Berglund 1976), local first fruits ceremonies associated with S. birrea are still conducted in more
remote parts of southern Africa.

The four stages of the marula first fruits ceremony (ubukanyi), which is named after the tree, are
described in detail by Junod (1938) on the basis of work in Mozambique and South Africa from 1895
to the early 1900's. Today, marula first fruits ceremonies are still well known in many parts of southern
Africa, but as already mentioned, are not necessarily practiced. In the Ingwavuma district, KwaZulu-

Ceremonies associated with crop production are common in many societies (e.g. African first ceremonies and, Christian harvest festivals.)

Natal, South Africa, for example, first fruits ceremonies are seldom held, despite it being an area where
many traditional religious practices continue to be followed. In a survey conducted in Mberengwa area
of western Zimbabwe in 1990, however, nearly 30 % of respondents participated in first fruit
ceremonies. These usually involved making S. birrea fruit beer by a special group of elders in the area,
pouring some of it on the ground and communing with the ancestral spirits. On Inhaca Island,
Mozambique the biggest and first ceremony is celebrated within the Nhaca family; the traditional owner
of the island. Following from this, most families on the island make their own ceremony where only the
old people participate (Cunningham et al. unpubl.).

In common with other important traditional religious events where the ancestral shades are present, the
marula first fruits ceremony may involve the ritual slaughter of a goat or, in an event described to one
of us (Cunningham pers. obs) in 1983, a black bull. This process is known in Zulu as umsebenzi
(literally work, but referring specifically to the ritual slaughter for the ancestors (ukuhlablea
amadlozi) (see Berglund, 1976)). This takes place at a specifically selected S. birrea tree, where an
offering of marula beer in a clay pot is made to the ancestors at a ceremony where the local traditional
leadership, spirit mediums (izangoma) and traditionalists in the community are involved.

Far more widespread, however, are firstly, the presentation of marula beer to traditional leadership and
secondly, offerings to ancestor spirits made at specific S. birrea trees by individual families (rather
than the larger community as described above for first fruits ceremonies). The presentation of the first
brewed marula beer to traditional leadership still takes place annually in several rural areas of southern
Africa (Shone 1979, Cunningham 1985, Mabogo 1990). In areas where this occurs, household
consumption of marula beer is not supposed to take place until the first beer has been presented to
traditional leadership (either local headmen or the chief). Mabogo (1990) gives a good contemporary
account of this social process amongst the VhaVenda community in the Northern Province, South

"Even though the making of mukumbi wine takes place throughout the ripening period, three stages
are particularly important to the VhaVenda. These stages are marked by mukumbi presentations to the
chiefs. The first offering is made when few of the fruits are ripe and only a little wine has been
produced. This offering is termed mulumo. It is followed by gulu when the ripe fruit is abundant and
large quantities of mukumbi are made. The offering of the last fruit is termed zwivhungu".

Less obvious, but very sincere, are the offerings to ancestor spirits made at specific S. birrea trees
which are the land shrines of individual families. These are evident in the form of the horns of ritually
slaughtered cattle or goats which are placed in the fork or branches of a specific S. birrea tree usually
hear the homestead, and in containers (glass bottles, beer pots) placed at the base of the tree. On some

occasions (observed many times during fieldwork in the Ingwavuma district, South Africa (1980-
1990) by Cunningham), a white cloth known as a palo is bound around the base of the tree as a sign
that the tree is the altar of the ancestors (Junod 1938). This practice and the colour of the cloth are
highly significant. The white cloth symbolizes the ancestor spirits, cleanliness and purity. Ritual
offerings contained in bottles have also been observed placed at the bases of selected S. birrea trees in
farmed fields (Mkuze district, South Africa, 1990) rather than near the homestead. Whether these
relate to requests to the ancestor spirits to positively influence the productivity of the field, someone in
the family or some other reason is uncertain.

4.2.3 The social function of marula beer

Out of all S. birrea products, it is marula beer which has the most significant role at the confluence
between the local community, the ancestor spirits and S. birrea trees in the landscape. Two reasons are
likely to account for the social significance of marula beer as a social glue in maintaining
community cohesiveness in areas of southern Africa. Firstly, because grain crop surpluses are low and
infrequent on the low arable potential, drought prone soils where S. birrea occurs and secondly, the
superabundance of fruit which can be fermented to make an alternative, very tasty beer (with the
various symbolic implications of this, as described above).

This social function of marula beer is similar to, but far more seasonal than that of traditional beers
made from Sorghum, Pennisetum, Eleusine, or more recently, maize or commercially brewed beers.
Beer from grain crops have an important and more widespread social role at many significant points in
life: at weddings, in offerings to ancestors, at funerals, conflict resolution rituals and after communal
work parties, for example in farming or when a hut is moved to a new site (Krige 1936, Cunningham
and Gwala 1986). In rural Zimbabwe, for example, chisi (plural: zvisi) days when people rest from
hunting or agricultural work in their fields are still widely observed, and beer drinking and offerings of
beer to ancestors, are a significant aspect of these days (Lan 1985). Marula juice was similarly used as
an offering to ancestors, in purification rituals and in communal celebrations (Junod 1938). Although
it is possible to store marula beer in sealed pots underground (see Section 4.1), storage is uncommon.
As a result, recreational or ceremonial brewing and consumption of marula beer is highly seasonal.
This limits its wider ceremonial use during the year far more than with grain brewed beer, as grain can
be stored for longer periods. The seasonal peak in marula beer consumption is certainly noticeable,
however, in terms of brewing and consumption, but very significantly not in terms of marula beer sale.

Although marula beer brewing is done by women from extended families (Figure 4a, 4b), it can also
be a communal activity. As Rodin (1985) describes:

"making [marula] wine is a communal project, where women from several kraals, along with their
infant children, gather under one big tree and bring all the fruit on the ground into a central area.
They have one or more large clay pots. The women have a small horn tool, rather sharp pointed, that
they hold in one hand and use to puncture the leathery skin of the fruit.Six or eight women
and their children will sit and talk and sing joyously and laugh while they squeeze out the juice. The
large clay jar is used over and over for making wine, so has a residue of yeast which causes
fermentation to begin immediately".

Whether this brewing is done individually or communally, the first of the fermented beer comes under
wider local political control, as described briefly in the previous section. The customary rule requiring
the first of the marula beer to be given to the local traditional leadership is one of the ways in which
local political control is reinforced. Shone (1979) describes a process in the Northern Province, South
Africa, where:

"A pot of beer is taken by each woman who has prepared this beverage to a specially allocated spot
where it is left for the chief. One of the chief's messengers examines and tests the beer, and takes only
the best to the chief. No general beer-drinking is allowed until this custom has been properly

Although this differs in some ways from a similar process which takes place amongst the Tembe-
Thonga communities of southern Mozambique and the Ingwavuma district, KwaZulu-Natal, South
Africa, the customary rule that no general beer-drinking is allowed until the presentation of the first
brewed marula beer has taken place is a common component. What differs is that in the Ingwavuma
district, marula beer was taken to the homestead of the local headman or traditional leader, rather than
being left under a tree. Whether the testing described by Shone (1979) is for the best tasting beer
- or whether to test for idliso (poisonous medicines which are placed by jealous rivals in food or beer)
is debatable. In many cases the person presenting the beer is required to taste it on presentation.

Historically, the processes of beer brewing and distribution of the first brewed beer involved large
numbers of people and extended far more widely than they do today. Junod (1927) describes the start
of the Tsonga first fruits ceremony in the early 1900's, which would reflect the process carried out
during pre-colonial times where:

"The women of the [traditional leaders] capital start out early in the morning, beating the psibutwana,
that is to say sounding the call that is produced by striking the lips (bu-bu-bu-bu), and they go all over
the country gathering the golden [Sclerocarya birrea] fruit: this is piled up in enormous heap on the

public square and the brew is processed..The women of the capital brew ten or fifteen huge casks
of the precious liquor! This accomplished, the second ceremony begins.

A convocation of the entire male portion of the tribe is held in the capital, but the first to respond to
the call must be the men, the warriors of the army, who come in full array, with all their ornaments,
and carrying their small play shields. One cask of beer is selected, into which is thrown the black
powder, the great medicine of the land, called in this case buhlungu bya miliru, the powder of
muliruAll those who are proudly conscious of having killed a man in war must first drink the
new beer which has been medicated to keep them from killing any of their compatriots during the
ensuing weeks of the bukanye.After this, the casks are distributed to the other warriors, who drink
to their hearts content".

A century later, when the brewing process is over and marula beer consumption starts, then similar
customary regulations still come into place. These prevent weapons being carried during this period,
for example in the Ingwavuma district, South Africa (Cunningham, field notes) and in northern
Namibia (Bruwer 1961), although this was not recorded in that area by Rodin (1985), who did note

"Although most businesses and field work go on as usual, it is a time of great festivity. I saw very few
inebriated people. The month is unusual because there is a moratorium on crime! No one steals or is
supposed to fight, and no court sessions are held before headmen. No one makes complaints if his
neighbours cattle accidentally get into his millet field. It is a remarkable event, and we heard of no
disturbances during the whole month".

The injunction not to harm anyone during this period and the cessation of normal business are also
described by Junod (1927) on the basis of his work with Tsonga speaking people in South Africa and
Mozambique in the early 1900's.

The popularity of marula beer was evident during a study done on the palm wine trade in the
Ingwavuma district in the early 1980's, which monitored sale of palm wine over an 21 month period
(Cunningham 1990). Although regional palm wine sales were high (over 976 000 litres/yr), they
plummeted during the marula fruiting season when an alternative (and far better tasting) alcoholic
beverage was available. For example, at one of the main sale points (esiCabazini) which sold over
288 000 litres of palm wine/yr, monthly palm wine sales dropped from an average of around 37 750
litres/month during the four months preceding the marula brewing season (October - January) to about
20 000 litres/month during the season when marula beer was available (February - April). Unlike palm
wine, however, marula beer was not sold in this area, but was brewed and consumed communally. A

similar customary prohibition on sale applies in Zimbabwe to grain brewed beer used on chisi days as
offerings to ancestors (Lan 1985) and until recently, has applied to marula beer in other parts of
southern Africa (Section 4.1). Mabogo (1990), for example, records that mukumbi has recently
entered the markets as most people do not have time to collect fruit and make their own. We suggest
that this move towards commercialisation of marula beer is more a symptom of social, religious and
political change than purely a lack of time, and illustrates some of the complex social and cultural
factors that need to be taken into account in decisions on whether to commercialise a product or not.


The previous section (Section 4.1) points out how numerous S. birrea products have recently entered
into local markets and attempts to provide some statistics on the levels of trade and incomes earned.
All the cases described refer to what could be termed an endogenous commercialisation process in
which households, and women in particular, at a local level recognised an opportunity to earn income
and commenced selling marula products. Most of this trading activity is ad hoc, informal, local, highly
seasonal and supplementary to other livelihood activities. This section deals with a much more formal
and externally driven commercialisation process, which has seen the emergence and development of
a variety of marula-based commercial enterprises, a number of which export their products to overseas
markets. Indeed, the potential of S. birrea to provide commercially marketable products has been
recognised for a long time by both the private sector and development agencies (see Section 8),
resulting in a variety of initiatives with varying objectives, commercial products and supply chains.
One of the main aims of the Winners and Losers project is to analyse these different initiatives in
terms of the benefits delivered to local communities. This section, therefore, serves as an introduction
to the formal commercial sector. It briefly describes some of key commercial enterprises focusing
mainly on the countries in which case studies are planned, i.e. South Africa and Namibia, but also
drawing on other southern African examples.

There is very little existing literature on the commercial producers and most of the information
reported below draws on an initial scoping exercise in which commercial producers were contacted
and interviewed either by phone or email (Cribbins and Mander 2001).

Given the potential and properties of marula fruits and kernels, it is surprising how little
commercialisation there has been within southern Africa. Indeed, other than the marula-based liqueur,
know as Amarula Cream, which is produced, bottled and marketed all over the world by Cape Distell
Pty Ltd. in Stellenbosch, South Africa there has been limited large-scale commercialisation of marula
products within the region. In fact, the Israelis (see Section 8) appear to be taking greater initiative in
this respect. In South Africa, there are five main commercial enterprises dealing with marula products:

two of these are large corporations, one is a rural development project and the others could be
classified as small to medium enterprises.

Distell (a new company recently formed from a merger of Cape Distillers and Stellenbosch Farmers
Wineries) is the largest consumer of marula fruits and pulp in South Africa. It is also the longest
existing commercial initiative based on S. birrea in the region having started in 1981. The company
processes approximately 700 tons of pulp or 2000 tons of fruit into Amarula Cream annually. The fruit
is collected by rural communities in the vicinity of Phalaborwa in Northern Province and processed at
the pulp factory and depot in the town of Phalaborwa (run by a subsidiary company). The depot has an
arrangement and agreement with local chiefs in terms of fruit supply, and both collects from identified
collection points in surrounding villages as well as purchasing directly from suppliers who come to
sell at the depot. The company is conscious of its responsibilities to the primary producers and has
registered a Section 21 Company with the objective of reinvesting in the community, particularly in
the areas of health and education. The Amarula cream product has been relatively successful and still
has an expanding international market.

The other large commercial company with an interest in marula is Northern Canners Limited
NORJAX. This is an oil producing company based in Tzaneen in Northern Province. They have been
in operation since 1950 and produce oil from avocados, macadamia nuts and tomatoes. At present, the
company is not yet marketing marula oil products, but has been experimenting and producing a limited
amount of marula oil. They envisage a partnership with local communities, in which the nuts are
supplied to the company after local users have made use of the fruit pulp for juice and beer.

A recent, but innovative project, is the Marula Project of the national Mine Workers Development
Agency (a Section 21 Company). The primary aim of the Marula Project, which is funded by DFID
and started about three years ago, is to ensure rural incomes to communities affected by the loss of
jobs on the mines (MDC project outline, undated). Thus, the project is explicitly a development
project with a poverty alleviation and livelihood enhancement focus. The project is being piloted at the
Mhala Development Centre in Bushbuckridge, Northern Province. Three main products are being
developed, a marula beer mainly for the local tourism market, a nectar or juice, and an oil for export.
The potential of other marula-based products such as soap and massage oil is being investigated.
Various mechanisms to enhance returns to the local community, such as benefit sharing and local-
level value addition, are also being explored (S. Barton pers. comm.). To date, the project has injected
over US$ 20 964 (R180 000) into the local community (Sunday Times 2001, S. Barton pers. comm.).
In January 2001 alone, over 300 individuals and 54 employees from 27 communities around the Mhala
Development Centre in Thulamahashe, benefited financially from the Marula Project (MDC project
outline, undated). Each season the Mhala Development Centre processes about 80 100 tonnes of

marula fruit to produce approximately 8 tonnes of pulp. The nectar and oil developments are still
young and no statistics are yet available, but is anticipated that up 500 people will earn incomes from
supplying kernels. Marula Committees at village level control the quantity and quality of fruit
supplied, with each of the 27 committees being supplied by about 10-30 collectors, primarily women.
The Mhala Development Centre is working hand-in-hand with another community development
project, the DANCED/Department of Water Affairs and Forestry Community Forestry Project, to
ensure sustainable use and management of the marula resource and to promote on-farm planting.

Lisbon Estates is a parastatal citrus and mango estate located near the Kruger Gate of Kruger National
Park. They have a plant and equipment for producing jams, chutneys and marmalades on a relatively
small-scale basis. They commenced producing marula jelly in 1983, but have recently closed this
enterprise. Approximately 12 000 bottles of marula jelly were processed annually, some of which was
supplied to Kruger National Park. About 30 individuals, many of who work on the estate, provided the
fruit which was collected from both the estate itself and nearby communal lands. Due to limited profit
margins and a small market, the marula jelly enterprise showed little growth, ultimately resulting in its
demise in 2001.

Ina Lessing Jams is a small enterprise operating from a private farm about 120 km north of Pretoria.
Like Lisbon Estates, Ina Lessing Jams produce a wide variety of fruit jams, jellies and chutneys using
both commercial grown and indigenous fruits. They have been in operation for seven years. Unlike the
other commercial producers described above, none of their fruit for marula products comes from
communal lands. Instead, the fruit is collected from trees on the farm as well as from streets and
private gardens in the nearby towns of Nylstroom and Naboomspruit. The products are mainly sold
within South Africa.

In Namibia, CRIAA SA-DC has been largely responsible for expanding the market in marula products
for rural producers. The marula operation managed by CRIAA SA-DC, is a collaborative effort
between primary producers, the Eudafano Womens Cooperative, and the contract processors, the
Katutura Artisans Project. The Eudafano Womens Cooperative, operating in northern Namibia,
consists of nine village-based producer organisations representing some 1500 women. The marula
products involved include kernels, oil and oil-based products (e.g. soap) for local and export markets,
and fruit-based products presently for informal markets. Trial production for the formal markets began
in 1996, with the initiative growing into a US$61508 (N$500 000) industry by 2000. The kernels are
extracted at household level by labour intensive means at source, whilst the oil is extracted
mechanically by the Katutura Artisans Project at Katutura near Windhoek. Fruit juice products are
hand and machine processed. The supply logistics and quality control is primarily managed by the
cooperative (Lombard et al. 2000).

There have been attempts to commercialise S. birrea products in Botswana. An ambitious project to
commercialise marula was implemented in Gweta, Botswana in the early 1990s, with assistance from
the Botswana Natural Resources Management Programme. This resulted in residents from three
villages in the Gweta area forming a Trust in 1993, formally recognised by the Botswana government
in 1996. In collaboration with Oasis breweries of South Africa, the Gweta community began
marketing marula drinks and puree with a certain amount of success. Acquiring the proper machinery
and marketing the product did however prove to be extremely expensive and financing of the project
was a continuous problem (Africa Resources Trust 1998). The project has since been terminated and it
would clearly be worthwhile to learn from the experiences here in any future community-based
projects to commercialise marula.

Marula commercialisation in Botswana is now negligible although Veld Products Research and
Development have initiated some trial marketing of marula chunks and jam. Approximately 10 tons
of pulp has been collected, derived from some 12-13 tons of fruit. The intention is to focus on local
supply, but for high-paying markets such as upmarket supermarkets and tourist lodges rather than
village residents.

In Zimbabwe, Kadzere (2000) writes there is currently no commercial utilisation of the fruit and
wood [marula]. Some chiefs will not allow sale of products from indigenous fruit trees and so this
will limit potential commercialisation of S. birrea products. However, since then, a Zimbabwean
NGO know as SAFIRE (Southern Alliance for Indigenous Resources) has commenced investigating
and piloting business opportunities in marula products for the benefit of local communities (Sola
2001). One such development, focussing on marula oil, is underway in the Chapinduka community. A
two step supply chain is envisaged in which one group collects and extracts the kernels, whilst another
takes on the role of secondary processor and processes and markets the oil.


The equitable and sustainable use of NTFPs, especially important species such as S. birrea, for both
subsistence and cash purposes is strongly influenced by tenure and regulatory controls and norms at a
local level, and national policies and legislation at a higher level. Frequently, the two systems operate
independently from one another and may even be incompatible. Tenure arrangements and local formal
and informal regulations are important in providing the rules for governing who can harvest a
resource, where they can harvest, how much they harvest and for whose benefit (Neumann and Hirsch
2000). These institutions also provide the framework for sustainable use and management.
Understanding property rights issues is particularly important when considering commercialisation.

Some reference has been made in earlier sections of this document to access and tenure issues (Section
3). This section deals with these explicitly, and is primarily concerned with access to and control of S.
birrea in communal areas. The policy and legislative framework is described for South Africa only.

6.1 Tenure, access and management

The importance of S. birrea to rural people is reflected in the selective removal of non-fruiting male
trees from arable lands, but the retention of fruit producing female trees (Brigham et al. 1996). Trees
in home plots are also retained and seedlings are frequently nurtured (High and Shackleton 2000).
There are also records of households that have purposely cultivated marulas from seed or truncheons
(Erkkila and Siiskonen 1994, High and Shackleton 2000).

Traditionally, the felling of marula trees, in particular female trees, was strictly taboo amongst most
rural societies where this species occurs (Cunningham 1989). The Pedi and Phalaborwa of Northern
Province regarded the trees as sacred, and severe punishment was administered to anyone who did not
respect this (Krige 1937). Among the Kwanyama in Namibia the tree is so highly prized for its fruit
that it is never cut down (Rodin 1985). Prohibitions on the sale of marula products also served to
protect the resource base (Kadzere 2000). In other cases, marula trees could only be cut with the
permission of the chief. Today, although these customary regulations are still said to exist, they have
lost their power and are seldom strictly enforced. This can partly be attributed to erosion of the
authority of traditional leaders as custodians of the resource base by both the colonial regimes and the
decentralisation policies of subsequent democratic governments. The latter has resulted in new local
governance structures which are often in strong competition with the traditional structures. Other
factors include the common pressures of modern society population growth, land scarcity,
breakdown in social capital, the need for cash income (e.g. by woodcarvers), westernisation and so on.

Marula fruits are generally a common property or open access resource (Lombard et al. 2000) except
where the trees occur on individual plots or fields, or near to homesteads. In these situations private
rights are accorded to the tree and its fruits (Shone 1979, Cunningham 1997). In many cases access to
trees under private tenure is provided by owners to others in the community. In terms of trees in
public areas within the village, harvesting of fruits would never take place from trees situated close to
someones homestead without prior consultation with the senior female in the household (Shackleton
et al. 1995). In the past, it appears that ownership over trees outside plots and fields was more
pronounced than it is now. Shone (1979) quotes the following notes of an early explorer:

each family in the village is allotted one or more marula trees according to the population of the
place: they are usually enclosed by a fence placed about three yards from the stem, the object of which
is to save the wild fruit from being devoured by animals as it falls.

Quin (1959) observed a similar enclosure of trees with fences. In an explanatory text on customary
law and nature conservation in South Africa, Labuschagne and Boonzaaier (1998) also refer to the
entitlement of families to plants that grow or appear on their cultivated lands and to the exclusive
rights of members of these families to fruit from trees on these lands. Although no specific mention is
made of S. birrea, the allocation of a residential stand or portion of arable land by a chief, tends to
bring with it permission to remove or use the trees growing on it (Voster 1989, cited in Labuschagne
and Boonzaaier 1998). However, fruit from trees in the commonage may be gathered and consumed
by anybody, including those from outside the village in the case of more distant trees. Indeed, there is
often overlapping and shared rights to many resources in the communal lands. The question is whether
this has the potential to result in competition and conflict under a commercialisation scenario.

In the Caprivi area in Namibia, the tenure arrangements are somewhat different to most other
communal areas in southern Africa, and women have individual tenurial rights over specific trees
within the commonage (Lombard pers. comm.).

Some stakeholders are concerned that commercialisation will result in increased privatisation of trees
and loss of access by current users to trees on neighbours plots as the incentive for owners to make use
of their own resource increases (Lombard et al. 2000).

6.2 Policy and legislation

Although strong cultural taboos protect marula on communal lands, this is not the case on private
lands and the last century in particular has witnessed a substantial increase in the felling of marula. In
South Africa, timber shortages in the Second World War led to increased use of timber resources,
among them marula, resulting in the promulgation of the Forest Act 13 of 1941. This Act afforded
protection to certain trees found on private land, including S. birrea. However, a withdrawal of these
emergency regulations in 1945 led to an increase in marula felling, and by 1948 a sawmill existed for
the exclusive purpose of sawing marula timber, consuming some 1800 tonnes of timber annually
(Shone 1979). In 1951 it was recognised that the continued existence of marula was threatened and in
terms of Proclamation 257 of 1951 S. caffra was declared a protected tree in the Transvaal. Appeals
against this ruling by sawmillers and famers selling marula resulted in a relaxation of these
regulations, but by 1962 a complete prohibition was imposed, reinforced in 1976 by a further
proclamation on protected trees (Shone 1979). One of the reasons for including marula in the

proclamation was its significance as a fodder tree, and the presence of buffalo grass Panicum
maximum under the tree, also an important fodder species.

Presently, a host of confusing and sometimes conflicting legislation exists to protect S. birrea in South
Africa. Various provincial Ordinances and Acts afford protection to the tree, although these are
generally inconsistent and outdated. For example the former Venda Nature Conservation and National
Parks Act (20 of 1986) includes S. birrea as a protected species; but the Mpumalanga Nature
Conservation Act (10 of 1998) does not. Through the Forest Act 84 of 1998 it is intended that a more
coherent approach to tree protection in South Africa be adopted. The Act allows for the Minister to
declare a tree species as protected, and marula is included in the draft list of protected tree species
prepared in terms of this legislation.


The importance of indigenous resources, in particular fruit species, for rural households across the
woodlands of southern Africa has been clearly revealed in a number of studies undertaken by the
International Centre for Research in Agroforestry (ICRAF) (e.g. Ngugi 1988, Kamau and Odra 1988,
Minae 1988, Ngugi and Saka 1989, Kwesiga and Kamau 1989, Kamau 1989). All of these studies
showed that farmers and rural households use indigenous fruit trees extensively as a source of food
and income. More recently, ethnobotanical surveys (Karachi et al. 1991, Maghembe and Seyani 1991,
Kwesiga and Chisumpa 1992) found further evidence of the importance of these fruits. Certainly the
information that precedes this section (4.1.1) clearly illustrates that important role that S. birrea plays
in the livelihoods of the majority of rural dwellers living within its distribution range.

Since the identification of the role of these trees in agroforests and demonstration of their good
performance when cultivated (Kwesiga et al. 1994), farmers surveys have been carried out to
determine priority species (Minae et al. 1995, Kwesiga and Mwanza 1995, Clarke 1995, Buwalda et
al. 1996), and a conference discussed and identified research priorities (Maghembe et al. 1995, 1998)
using participatory priority setting procedures (Jaenicke et al. 1995, Franzel et al. 1996).
Subsequently, ICRAF and its partners have made rangewide germplasm collections of Uapaca
kirkiana and S. birrea as the first step in a domestication strategy (Simons 1996, Leakey and Simons
1998). These collections provide material for conservation and future utilisation. A prior requirement
was to determine the requirements for seed germination (Maghembe and Prins 1993, Mwabumba and
Sitaubi 1995).

In many countries, non-timber forest products (NTFPs) represent an under-utilised resource,

something recognised by most national forest policies today. There is now a realisation that

extractivism from wild sources is often followed by the domestication of products as the resource
becomes scarce and/or the demand for the product increases, with concomitant price increases
(Clsener-Godt and Sachs 1994). Consequently, in parallel with domestication activities, there is a
need to examine possible market failures as well as incentives/disincentives for product marketing and
processing, along with policy and distributional issues (Leakey and Tomich 1999). Dewees and Scherr
(1996) have called for higher priority to be given to NTFP marketing and policy; specifically relating
to market development. They argue that this should be seen as a positive move towards improving
human welfare and reducing environmental degradation on already cleared land, rather than seeing
these issues as a threat to the conservation and management of natural forests and woodlands.

At present marula fruits are collected from tree populations, which are widely considered as wild,
although it has been suggested that anthropogenic influences, arising from management and strong
tree tenure, go back at least 2000 years (Cunningham et al. in prep). Evidence from other indigenous
African fruit trees (Leakey et al. in prep) indicates that such influences increase the range of
phenotypic variation in fruit traits, offering enhanced opportunities for cultivar development.
Currently, horticulturalists in southern Africa have started to produce improved varieties of marula
(in terms of commercial fruit pulp ratio, not kernel mass) over the past 15 years (see Section 8). The
aim of using these varieties has been to improve the quality, size and flavour of the fruits, and to
promote their use in agroforestry (Taylor et al. 1995, 1996, Maghembe et al. 1995, 1998). This
contrasts with the multiple-use of fruits by poorer households for the kernels and oil in addition to the
fruit pulp.

Genetic variation in fruit characteristics have been observed in indigenous fruits from southern Africa
(Mwamba 1995); while Maghembe et al. (1994) and Maghembe (1995) have reported the benefits of
cultivation, finding that trees planted in farmland have faster growth, earlier flowering and larger fruits
than found on wild trees. To domesticate marula, on-going BMZ-funded domestication activities
coordinated by ICRAF, aim to bring indigenous fruits into cultivation by multiplying the superior
trees, which produce large and sweet fruits while still small young trees. In horticulture, this is done by
vegetative propagation, using either grafting/budding or rooted cuttings. Vegetative propagation
methods for marula were first developed by Holtzhausen et al. (1990). Grafting and budding are
generally used because of the difficulty of propagating mature tissues by cuttings. The preference for
grafting is, however, offset by graft incompatibilities that can occur years later. Cuttings on the other
hand are currently only practical for juvenile tissues, although potentially have the advantage of higher
multiplication rates and easier low-technology vegetative propagation methods (Leakey et al. 1990).
Recent developments in the physiological understanding of rooting (Leakey et al. 1994) and the
differentiation between ontogenetic and physiological ageing (Leakey et al., 1992), suggest, however,
that with further research, cuttings may become a relatively easy and cost effective means of

propagating fruit trees. It is these developments together with the possibility of rejuvenating mature
trees through in vitro culture that provide the incentive for this research proposal. In the longer term,
tissue culture techniques provide perhaps the best scenario for mass propagation of selected cultivars,
although unlike the low-technology systems to be used in the first instance, tissue culture is not
appropriate for village-level application.

The field performance of grafted marula plants in Botswana indicated that they started to produce
fruits after 4-5 years, whereas seedling plants did not fruit for 8 10 years (Taylor et al. 1996). As
identified by Maghembe (1995) in Malawi, cultivated plants also grew more rapidly. In this case,
water harvesting techniques using macro- and micro-catchments improved tree growth by over 50 %.

Domestication and commercialisation are both necessary and potentially harmful to small-scale
farmers (Leakey and Izac 1996). In general, if domestication is linked to small-scale agroforestry, the
benefits greatly outweigh the negative impacts (Leakey 2001a, b), and can be seen as a viable strategy
for poverty alleviation (Poulton and Poole 2001). Harmful outputs from domestication and
commercialisation could potentially arise if interest in growing new tree crops expands to the point
where outsiders, with capital to invest, come in and develop large-scale monoculture plantations for
export markets.


This section summarises findings to date with regard to intellectual property rights, benefit-sharing,
and S. birrea. It includes a synthesis of existing literature on the issue, and points to a number of
research areas that will require further elucidation. In collecting pertinent information, contact has
been made with the following individuals and agencies:

officials at the Agricultural Research Centre and National Department of Agriculture, working
on the characterisation of marula for Plant Breeders Rights;
Professor Holtzhausen, who is in the process of registering several marula cultivars;
researchers at Ben Gurion University and others within Israel that are growing and
commercialising marula;
staff at Veld Products Research and Development in Gaborone, Botswana; and
officials from the Ministry of Agriculture in Botswana, in an attempt to track the export of
marula genetic resources from southern Africa in the 1980s.

International patent databases have been scanned for any products or processes based on marula,
including searches on the UPOV (International Union for the Protection of New Plant Varieties)

database to ascertain whether or not Plant Breeders Rights for S. birrea have been obtained in any

8.1 Early use, local knowledge and domestication

Marula has been a focus of anthropogenic activities for many thousands of years. Archaeological
evidence suggests that the fruit of Sclerocarya birrea subsp. caffra was known and consumed by
humans in southern Africa as far back as 9000 BC (Walker 1989). In Zimbabwe, it has been
speculated that marula was the key attraction for seasonal foraging in the Matobos, an outcrop of
granite hills south of Bulawayo, with shelled marula stones recovered from archaeological deposits
dating back 150 000 years (Walker 1989). About 9500 years ago foragers began to spend more time in
the Matobos, and after a further 400 years or so it is suggested they became permanent residents,
relying heavily on wild fruits. Indeed, marula is stated as the raison dtre for settlement of the
Nvuyi people in the Matobos (Walker 1989). In a single cave in the area, it is estimated that over 24
million marula nuts were consumed, considered a mere fraction of the total numbers collected. Similar
remains have also been found in several Stone Age sites in the Transvaal (Walker 1989). Unbroken
marula kernels found at Mapungupwe, a hill near the banks of the Limpopo, indicate fruit
consumption by a Boskopoid people over 1000 years ago (Palmer and Pitman 1972). S. birrea is also
one of the edible fruit bearing species recorded from an excavation at Shongweni-South cave, South
Africa (Cunningham 1988, Davies 1975). It has also been suggested that the specially fashioned
pieces of bone, typical of Iron Age sites in the Transvaal, may have been used to extract marula
kernels (Palmer and Pitman 1972).

The early steps towards domestication of marula by local people, and selection of desirable traits, is
well documented. For example, the classification by the Pedi of marula trees, according to the
palatability of the fruit has already been mentioned (Section 1). Shone (1979) describes the importance
of the knowledge of women as to which trees bear the most and largest fruit, and which trees give the
best fruit for beer making.

Such knowledge has been applied in the development of marula domestication strategies, both at the
national and international level. In the 1980s, an investigation of potential new desert crops by Israeli
scientists used knowledge of local people in Botswana to glean information about the different
qualities, yields and locations of marula trees (Cherfas 1989). This information was in turn used to
choose seeds from fruits having desirable characteristics for potential new crops, forming the basis for
a long-term research and development programme on marula in Israel (Mizrahi and Nerd 1996).

Local knowledge about marula has also guided the work of a South African horticulturalist, Professor
Kas Holtzhausen, who has over the past 20 years developed a number of cultivars through selection of
several thousand wild trees (Holtzhausen pers. comm.). Such knowledge has been gleaned not only
from communities, but also from commercial farmers and a range of authorities and individuals.

At the international level, ICRAF has conducted a wide range of germplasm collections of S. birrea
within the SADC region, in collaboration with the SADC Tree Seed Centre Network, SADC Regional
Genebank and national partners (Kindt and Were 2000). Collections have been targeted from 25
farmer-selected trees of 40 provenances from farmers fields, and germplasm exchange has occurred
between countries for the establishment of multilocational trials (Kindt and Were 2000). These
initiatives comprise a first step in a formal domestication strategy (farmer domestication mentioned in
Section 7) for the species. ICRAFs approaches to the domestication of marula and other southern
African fruit trees contrasts with the other domestication efforts described here. ICRAF and its
partners specifically work with local small-scale farmers to identify, propagate and test superior
phenotypes as potential cultivars in accordance with the CBD (Maghembe et al. 1998) (Section 6).

8.2 Intellectual property rights and benefit-sharing

All of these initiatives have relevance in the context of intellectual property rights and benefit sharing.
Three issues are pertinent. First, the extent to which local knowledge has been used in the
development of commercial cultivars of S. birrea and options for equitably compensating original
holders of such knowledge. Second, the impact that Plant Breeders Rights might have on
communities that use and depend on marula. A third, but related issue, concerns the extent to which
domestication and commercialisation of marula might impact upon communities currently harvesting
or using the resource.

There are currently no Plant Breeders Rights for S. birrea in any country in the world (de Bruyn pers.
comm., GRAIN pers. comm.). However, there are pending applications in South Africa by Professor
Holtzhausen who, through selection of wild trees for superior production, fruit size, and fruit quality,
has identified a number of cultivars for possible registration (Holtzhausen et al. 1990). These include:
Pharulani, originating from Phalaborwa;
Marula, originating from a community close to the Kruger gate of the Kruger National Park;
Swarula, found by the then South West African Police near Ondangwa (and initially named
Koevoet meaning "crowbar", after the notorious unit which fought against the South West
African Peoples Organisation - SWAPO)
Toularula, originating on the farm Toul near Trichardsdal;
Mpandlarula; and

Chopperula, found at the gate of the helicopter hangar at Skukuza airport.

Interestingly, Holtzhausen (1998) believes that the ultimate marula (100g fruit size; 60% juice; 20%
TSS; very high Vitamin C content) is still to be found, possibly within the Kruger National Park which
is thought to contain the largest genepool of wild marula variants.

In response to the pending application for Plant Breeders Rights (PBRs), the Department of
Agriculture has recently placed S. birrea on the list of species required by UPOV 19784. The
Department is currently developing UPOV Guidelines for marula and will use the existing UPOV Pear
Guidelines (International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants 2000) as its template
(Buitendag pers. comm.).

In terms of UPOV 1978, the rights obtained will prevent anyone from producing, offering for sale and
marketing the reproductive material of the variety. UPOV 1991, which is likely to be ratified by South
Africa in the near future, will extend these rights to prevent anyone from producing, conditioning for
multiplication, offering for sale, marketing, exporting, importing and stocking for any of those
purposes the reproductive material. These rights can extend to the direct product of the harvest if that
harvest was produced from material that circumvented any of these rights (Vellve pers. comm.). Some
exemptions exist for the non-commercial use of protected varieties, and UPOV 1978 obliquely creates
a farmers privilege, through requiring breeders authorization only for production of propagating
material for purposes of commercial marketing. Although currently upheld in South Africas Plant
Breeders Rights Act, there are intentions to remove this privilege and to allow farmers to harvest seed
only of varieties which are not protected by means of intellectual property rights or compulsory
certification schemes (National Department of Agriculture 2000).

These conditions have important implications. While community use of wild and semi-domesticated
relatives will not be affected, the granting of PBRs will prevent communities from exchanging or
commercialising reproductive material without a license. As there is generally no fixed license fee, the
holder of the PBR will likely charge prices that are out of the range of small-scale farmers. Neither
version of UPOV provides a basis for benefit sharing and there is currently no legislation in South
Africa that requires income to be shared with farmers or communities that have participated in the
development of improved varieties. Some developing countries are starting to discuss PBR schemes to
impose benefit-sharing, and an African Model Law has been developed by the Organisation for
African Unity (Ekpere 2001) but this discussion is still in its infancy in South Africa. Marula thus

South Africa is a signatory to both the 1978 and 1991 UPOV Agreements, but has not yet ratified UPOV 1991.
Thus the 1978 Act applies which requires the listing of species for plant variety protection.

provides an important opportunity through which locally developed models could be piloted and
working mechanisms for the sharing of benefits elucidated.

Regardless of whether or not PBRs are granted, domestication of marula is likely to have broad
impacts on communities that traditionally gather or use the tree. The tree domestication activities of
ICRAF are specifically targeted to improving the incomes of poor farmers (Leakey and Simons 1996);
a strategy recently endorsed as a poverty reducing strategy by the UK Department for International
Development, in response to an issues and options paper by Poulton and Poole (2001). Leakey and
Tomich (1998) have, however, pointed out that domestication of commercially important fruit trees
could induce shifts in benefits from poorer groups of farmers to richer ones, or to multi-national
companies if the industrial demand was considerable. There can, thus, be questions as to who are the
ultimate beneficiaries of domestication and what are the impacts of such strategies on community-
based management and conservation of natural resources (Leaky and Tomich 1999), as situations
could arise when the people gathering the wild product may not be those that are best suited to
undertake production of the domesticated version. In the case of indigenous fruit trees in general,
Leakey and Izac (1996) considered these undesirable outcomes not to be very likely, but if the
commercial interest in marula continues to grow, it could be an exception.

8.3 International transfers of germplasm

At the international level, S. birrea raises a suite of difficult questions with regard to the ownership of
plant genetic resources. Accounts from the 1970s indicate requests by American researchers for
marula nuts to investigate supposed aphrodisiac qualities (Shone 1979). (The outcome of this
investigation is unknown). Plant exchanges in the 1980s between Botswana and Israel purportedly
resulted in Israel receiving the marula tree from Botswana in exchange for Botswana obtaining the
date and pomegranate from Israel (Hadassah 2001). Alternative information (Mizrahi pers. comm.)
suggests that fruit-bearing cacti were introduced to Botswana by Israel, in exchange for marula and as
part of a new crop development programme of the University of Ben-Gurion. Either way, such
exchanges are not recorded or remembered by relevant Ministries in Botswana, and took place in the
absence of any legal agreements between the two countries.

Despite these transactions, plantations of S. birrea outside of southern Africa are limited. Kibbutz
Ketura in Israels Arava region reportedly has up to 25 acres of marula growing, and significant fruit
production (Ben Gurion University 2000). Fruit is sold to the regional council which produces and
sells a kosher liqueur named Marula, based upon a secret recipe. Other estimates suggest that no
more than 3 hectares of S. birrea are planted in Israel (Mizrahi pers. comm.). Marula has also been
identified by the Israelis as one of six species that warrants consideration for further research and

development (Mizrahi and Nerd 1996). It is reported that trees introduced in the Negev Desert produce
abundant fruits from early ages, mainly when grown in hot areas with saline water (Nerd and Mizrahi

8.4 Patents

There are several other issues pertaining to intellectual property rights that have relevance to marula.
Although no recent patents have been granted for any marula products or processes, a patent
application was made in 1917 by two South Africans for the use of Sclerocarya caffra as a dye
material (GB 126742). This patent would have long expired, but nonetheless is open to scrutiny given
the well-documented traditional use of marula bark for the preparation of dye materials (Shone 1979,
von Teichman 1983) (Section 4.1).

8.5 Future possibilities for intellectual property rights

Investigations are currently underway with regard to the options available to groups of primary and
traditional producers in Namibia and southern Africa to protect their traditional knowledge of marula-
based products (Lombard pers. comm.). The project is also investigating ways in which benefits could
be shared among community-based groups in the region who have traditionally used the resource. One
type of IPR that requires further investigation concerns the use of Geographical Indications, thus far
confined to certain beverages and foodstuffs but perhaps a potential tool to protect certain traditional
know-how and promote distinctive local and regional products (Dutfield 2000). Future fieldwork will
undoubtedly suggest further areas warranting investigation.


There is no doubt that the marula is important for a wide range of reasons. It is essential that its role in
the lives of millions of people in Southern Africa is not underestimated, or brought into jeopardy by
uncontrolled commercial pressures. As a wide-ranging and drought resistant species, the marula is
particularly important in times of hardship, and it is at these times that its continued existence within
communal lands can be crucial for human survival.

While it is hoped that commercialisation of such species will bring benefits to communities, it can be
seen that this may not always be the case. It is for this reason that this work hopes to take forward the
efforts to secure the benefits of this type of natural resource use, for those who are most dependent on
it. By clarifying the productive capacity of the species, and the measures needed to ensure its healthy
continuance, the work of the research team in this project will help in the achievement of a more
sustainable future for the people of this region.


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Elna de Bruyn, National Department of Agriculture (South Africa)

Elise Buitendag, National Department of Agriculture (South Africa)
Felicia Chiloane,. Mine Workers Development Agency, Marula Project, Bushbuckridge.
Susan Barton, Mine Workers Development Agency, Marula Project, Braamfontien, Johannesburg.
L. du Plessis, CSIR, Pretoria.
Pierre. du Plessis, CRIAA-SA DC, Windhoek, Namibia
E.D Mabogo. Univeristy of Venda, Thohoyando, Venda.
Professor Kas Holtzhausen, Nelspruit.
Cyril Lombard, CRIAA-SA DC, Windhoek, Namibia
Anna-Rosa Martinez, GRAIN
Professor Mizrahi, Ben-Gurion University
Renee Vellve, GRAIN
James Vos, Agriculture Research Council Institute for Tropical and Sub-Tropical Crops (South
Cor de Wolf and Mpho Masate, Veld Products Research and Development
Victor Tlhalerwa, Mothusi Ben, Hendrik Madisa and Mr Dipholo, Ministry of Agriculture,


Appendix 1. Summary of consumptive and non-consumptive uses of S. birrea

Fresh fruit Eaten whole, particularly by children. Skin and nuts discarded, SEPASAL 2001, ANU 1999

although the nuts may be stored for later extraction of the kernels.
Beer/wine/distilled spirits Fruits without seeds and skins mixed with water to make an SEPASAL 2001, ANU 1999,
Mugochi et al. 1999
intoxicating beer; also used to make wine (Zimbabwe) and distilled
Jams and jellies The fruits make a good table jelly. Von Breitenbach 1965
Nuts (kernels) Compartmentalised kernels can be eaten as they are or ground up to SEPASAL database 2001,
make porridge, condiments, pseudocereals and seed oil, or mixed Roodt 1988
with other foodstuffs to make relishes and chutneys.
Oil from kernels Seed oils are used as preservatives and for cooking. SEPASAL 2001, ANU 1999
Roots Roots are crushed and water is squeezed out to produce potable water. SEPASAL 2001
Leaves Leaves are used as a relish. SEPASAL 2001, Watt and
Breyer-Brandwijk 1962
Exudates The resin is eaten by the Moshaweng Tlokwa of Botswana. SEPASAL 2001,
Larvae Host to a variety of butterflies, moths and borer beetles which Dalziel 1948, Pooley 1993
produce edible caterpillars and larvae.

Aerial parts: stems, leaves Cattle and game mammals eat fresh and fallen leaves as well as Dalziel 1948, SEPASAL
2001, Pooley 1993
from trees, fallen leaves, young stems. Elephant break branches off the tree and eat the leaves.
seeds The branches are often cut in winter and provided to livestock as feed.
Fruits Fruits are eaten by cattle, goats, game mammals, elephants, etc. SEPASAL database 2001,
also see ecological section
Nectar Bees enjoy the nectar from marula flowers. SEPASAL 2001

Seed oil Used as cosmetics (skin moisturiser and soap) - the stable out Cosmetic Science & Business
performs all other known natural liquid oils. There is an ongoing 2000, SEPASAL 2001
research to find out if oil residue can be marketed as sunscreen.
Bark and wood Used for beehives and firewood. Mbuya et al. 1994
Kernels Kernels burn with a bright flame and are used as candle substitute Coates Palgrave 1972
Wood Wood is used to make floors, boxes, tool handles, boats/canoes, SEPASAL 2001, Steenkamp
furniture, joinery, tools, yokes, plates/bowls, mortars, stools, 1999, Dzerefos 1996,
beehives, toys, ornaments, drums and curios. The woody growth Immelman et al. 1973
produced by parasitic mistletoes is sold as a curio.
Tannins/resin Red/brown dye and inks from the bark and resin. Van Wyk and Gericke 2000,
ANU 1999, SEPASAL 2001,
Dalziel 1948, Perrier de la
Bathie 1946
Fruit skins The skins used as fertiliser in Pearl Millet fields in Namibia. ANU 1999
Truncheons/plants Live fences. SEPASAL 2001

Antifertility agents Seeds are used for birth control. SEPASAL 2001
Bark Bark is used for ritual, religion, magic: a decoction is taken by some SEPASAL 2001, Hutchings
African tribes to remove defilement caused by eating food in the et al. 1996, Watt and Breyer-
relatives house where there has been death without the performance Brandwijk 1962
of necessary purification rites; Venda people administer powdered
bark to expectant mothers to regulate the sex of the child (bark from
male tree for a boy and that from female tree for a girl); Zulus and
Thongas use a decoction of a bark as ritual cleansing emetic before
marriage. Zulu healers bathe in a decoction of the bark prior to
treating a patient suffering from gangrenous rectitis. Newly-born girls
and their mothers are washed on a fire heated by marula twigs so that
the baby may be endued with fertility, softness, tenderness and early
Fruits/kernels The fruit juice is used in certain Shangaan and Thonga religious SEPASAL 2001
ceremonies; kernels given as a gift is a great mark of friendship since
the fruit is much prized.
Fermented fruit Sharing of beer is important in cementing social relationships. Shackleton et al. 1995
Roots In Zimbabwe the roots are used to arouse or prevent possession from Hutchings et al. 1996
Fruits Zulus regard fruits as a potent insecticide, this is used to destroy ticks. Watt and Breyer-Brandwijk
Bark A decoction of bark is sometimes used as an insecticide. Khan and Nlanga 1990

Bark The bark contains antihistamines and is used for cleansing by inhaling
the steam. A decoction of bark is used to treat human circulatory maralu, SEPASAL 2001,
system (haemorrhoids) disorders; as well as digestive disorders and ANU 1999, Hutchings et al.
diarrhoea (crushed bark is used with boiled water), liver problems, 1996, Netshiluvhi 1996,
fever, venereal diseases, malaria (malaria prophylactic), Morris 1996, Kokwaro 1993,
inflammation, rheumatism, painful teeth, and warts. Grounded bark Descheemaeker 1979, Jenkins
mixed with soft porridge is used to help wean and strengthen babies. 1987, Watt and Breyer-
In East Africa the bark is used for toothache, constipation and Brandwijk 1962
stomach disorders.
Roots Roots are used for many purposes in Zimbabwe, including Hutchings et al. 1996,
menorrhagia, bilhazia, sore eyes, weakness and heart pain. In East Kokwaro 1993, Gelfand et al.
Africa roots are used with other species in an alcoholic medicine to 1985
treat an internal ailment known as kati. In Senegal root bark and
leaves are used with other plants for snake bite and other venoms.

Leaves Leaf decoctions are taken and also inhaled for malaria in Madagascar. SEPASAL 2001, Hutchings
Leaves may be used as dressings for burns and wounds. et al. 1996, Jenkins 1987