Chimanimani and Chipinge districts, in the south-east of Zimbabwe, contain some of the poorest and driest areas of the country. Farming families in the communal areas of these districts mostly engage in food crop and vegetable production for livelihood purposes. However, due to high population densities, small landholdings, a lack of inputs, and erratic rainfall, they are often not able to produce enough to feed their families.
However, despite being both poor and dry, Chipinge and Chimanimani contain a rich diversity of underutilised indigenous plant resources. One of these resources is baobab. The harvest and sale of baobab fruit provides an important supplementary livelihood opportunity to many of the poorest farmers in these districts. Because wild harvesting, especially of fruit from indigenous trees, is traditionally dominated by women. The collection can easily be incorporated in between their daily activities without causing major disruptions to the day.
Baobab trees produce harvestable produce at different seasonal times (May-September) to conventional food crops. This also means collection of baobab does not interfere with the production of other crops. Through work with Bio-Innovation Zimbabwe and another private company who established processing and storage centres in each district.
A group of collectors were trained in the sustainable harvesting of baobab fruit, processing (cracking of the fruits and removing pulp and seed) and quality management. The positive impacts on rural communities from the harvest and sale of baobab fruit have been substantial. At the same time, the valorisation of baobab fruit has caused rural people to look differently at their resource.
Says one woman from Chipinge: ‘I grew up in this area with plenty of baobab. The fruits would just be left lying everywhere as people regarded them as food for baboons and monkeys. I never thought that one day baobab would be a source of livelihood for me and my family’. Today, this translates into rural communities taking active steps to conserve and sustainably manage their natural resources.