The marula tree, which is indigenous to many parts of Africa and Madagascar, is considered the king of the African trees because of its drought resistance and the valuable resources its leaves, bark, stem and fruit offer. Known as Sclerocarya birrea to botanists, marula trees grow in the wild and are not cultivated. However, local chiefs protect them on communally held lands. Archaeological findings show that its fruit and nut have been a local dietary mainstay for at least 10,000 years. In Zimbabwe's prehistoric Pomongwe Cave site, the nuts of 24 million marula fruits have been identified.

Today, Southern Botanica, VEGAMOUR's sister company based in Namibia, makes the versatile marula fruit the basis of a thriving, home-grown economy that meets the needs of indigenous people. Specifically, Southern Botanica supplies fair trade work to approximately 5,000 women who harvest the marula nut for us. These harvests are the source of the marula oil used in many VEGAMOUR products, including our popular Pure Marula Oil.

Southern Botanica is the world's largest producer of cold-pressed pharmaceutical-grade marula oil, which is produced in fair trade partnership with independent, female-owned African small- and medium-sized enterprises and thousands of empowered women throughout Africa.

As a plus for the environment, the marula trees are indigenous and are not farmed in a commercial orchard setting, which can rapidly deplete the soil in a demanding climate that receives only about 14 inches of rainfall a year. Additionally, the marula is wild-harvested, without the use of agricultural chemicals like synthetic fertilizers or pesticides which initially boost fruit production but inflict long-term damage on the soil, water, air and the people who come into contact with the source trees and their fruit.

Here's more on our sister company's fair trade partnership to source marula oil and why we choose to use it in our products.

Why Is the Marula Tree and its Oil So Valuable?

While VEGAMOUR is interested in the marula tree for its oil, the tree is very valuable to the indigenous people for many additional reasons.

The Legends of the Marula Tree

Southern Botanica - VEGAMOUR - Marula Oil - NAMIBIA

Many legends surround the power of the marula tree. One story tells of a friendship between the clever trickster-spirit, a hare, who befriended an elephant in need. In gratitude for the hare's help, the elephant gifted the hare with one of its enormous tusks. The hare buried the tusk for safekeeping, and the first marula tree grew in its place, explaining the habit elephants have today of congregating in the cooling shade under the generously broad leaves of the marula tree.

How the Indigenous Peoples of Africa Use the Oil

Every year in February, village elders and traditional healers gather to bless the sacred fruit they are about to collect. Then, before dawn, healers take their places under the trees and begin the offering of drumming and chanting, thanking the ancestors for the abundant, life-giving marula.

Eons of history surround the marula tree and its fruit and nuts. The bark of the tree has long been used to make rope and dye. It's also boiled into a tonic used as an antihistamine and as a preventative and treatment for malaria and dysentery. Additionally, the green leaves are used to ease the inflammation of scratches, burns and spider bites, and they're also chewed to relieve heartburn.

The juicy, tart fruit is high in vitamin C, whether eaten raw or cooked. The fruit is used for jams, jellies and juices and is fermented into beer and liqueur. The skin of the fruit is also burned to create a deeply flavored, coffee-like beverage.

Not a scrap goes to waste! The skins and peels are used as compost, producing rich soil for kitchen gardens. The shell of the nut is burned for cooking fuel. And the nutritious seed-cake (what remains after the oil is pressed) is given back to the communities to feed their chickens and goats, which serve as the mainstay of small villages as sources of milk, cheese and eggs.

Also: 3 Incredible Women's Organizations to Support

Why VEGAMOUR Uses Marula Oil in its Products

VEGAMOUR CEO Daniel Hodgdon in Namibia for Southern Botanica

 

We love marula oil for its versatility as both a skin and hair ingredient. The molecular structure of the oil is very similar to the lipids produced by the human body. Some of its benefits include:

  • Rich in antioxidants: Helps protect skin and hair from damage by UV, pollutants and other free radicals
  • Packed with healthful omega fatty acids (3,6, & 9): Lipids that nourish and energize cells
  • Anti-inflammatory: Reduces skin redness, tenderness and irritation
  • High oleic acid content: Able to penetrate skin and hair with essential lipids
  • High stearic acid content: Seals in moisture
  • Advanced hydration for rapid absorption: Doesn't linger on the skin or plug follicles and pores, the way occlusive, petroleum-based products do
  • Long-term stability in formulations: Won't separate, so product maintains integrity

What Does "Fair Trade" Really Mean?

Fair Trade is an international practice created to promote greater equity in trading partnerships between exporters in developing nations and importers in the industrialized world. It is a global social justice and human rights phenomenon founded to correct the unequal distribution of the world's wealth. A fair trade economy is particularly meaningful in countries like Namibia, where traditional societies have been brutally disrupted by centuries of European imperialism and colonialism, resulting in generations of genocide, warfare and poverty.

The core belief underpinning fair trade agreements is that buying products from farmers in developing countries at a fair price is a more efficient way of developing self-sustaining economies than traditional charity and aid.

Numerous national and international federations coordinate and facilitate the certification and work of fair trade organizations.

In establishing its own proprietary supply chains in Namibia, Southern Botanica is able to ensure fair and ethical trade with rural producers, a sustainable and traceable harvesting process, regulatory-compliant sourcing and a reliable supply of pure, cold-pressed, virgin-grade marula oil.

This unique supply chain was established to bring one of the most stable and beneficial oils to market while generating income and environmental benefits to the rural harvesting communities in Southern Africa. To this end, 5% of the gross sales is reinvested as a guaranteed royalty into rural projects in the communities from which these natural resources are derived.

Why Fair Trade Is So Valuable

Here's a simple equation to help you see why this practice is so life-giving: It starts with a mature, productive grove of 100 marula trees. Southern Botanica employs 200 women to gather fallen fruit from those 100 trees. Typically, they will collect 110,231 pounds of fruit per harvest, amounting to four barrels of marula oil for export.

The capacity to earn a sustainable living wage, in a culturally respectful manner, offers a promising model for the people of Namibia and many other countries now claiming their place at the global economic table.

Good Works and Good Times

We are very honored to work with women's collectives and village initiatives — and this goes beyond the collecting of the marula fruit. We also lift up communities in Namibia by providing educational programs addressing literacy, HIV awareness and prevention and tree-planting. And we're finalizing a plan to plant 30,000 mango trees in Namibia to sustainably supply much-needed vitamin C to the region's desert-dwelling communities.

All of these initiatives align with our dedication to creating justice and equality for future generations everywhere. It takes patience. But this work proves that even a hard seed set in dry ground can awaken a flower.

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Photo credits: 

  • Main Image: StockNinja/iStock
  • Additional Images: VEGAMOUR
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