Project Description

Sclerocarya birrea / Mupfura (Sh) / Umganu (N)

The marula tree is indigenous to the miombo woodlands of southern Africa. Most well known for its fruits that ‘drive elephants mad’ when dropped to the ground and lightly fermented, marula is a much-loved tree in the veld in Africa. Marula season is a time of festivity that cannot be compared to any other time of the year.

The fruit is very rich in vitamin C. The nut oil is similar in its properties to olive oil, highly nutritious and exceptionally stable, but with the additional benefit of having powerful antioxidant properties. It is highly valued as a skincare ingredient.

Where it can be found: Marula is widely distributed at low and medium altitudes in open woodlands across Zimbabwe. It is especially associated with hot, dryland areas and is an excellent source of supplementary nutrition and income for rural people living in areas of limited agricultural potential.

Two studies show the sustainability of harvesting marula in Zimbabwe.

The National University of Science and Technology carried out a survey in Bulilima and Mangwe districts and calculated that trees yield about 76,000 tonnes of fruit per year.

End of 2014, BIZ carried out a marula resource assessment in Binga, Hwange and Beitbridge districts. There are about 530,000, 510,000 and 1,760,000 marula trees in the 3 districts surveyed (excluding national parks), giving a potential yield of 150,000 tonnes of fruits per year.

Using the kernel to fruit yields from Chivi, this means Bulilima and Mangwe could produce about 1,400 tonnes and Binga, Hwange and Beitbridge over 2,500 tonnes of kernels per year.

To put these figures in perspective: BIZ is currently supplying about 10 tonnes of kernels to local oil producers and the local food market at present needs less than a tonne for a good year’s supply.

What is harvested – Harvesting time: The whole fruit (pulp and nuts) are harvested between January and March. Nut cracking can be done throughout the year, after the nuts have dried for a few months, typically during the time when people are less busy in their fields.

Average yield per collector: Fruit yields range from 270-570 kg of fruit/tree/year. Collecting the fruit is an ongoing activity, requiring maybe 30 min/day. A practised producer can manually extract 1 kg of nut kernels per day. A highly motivated group of about 100 women in Mwenezi is able to produce 2 tonnes of kernels per month! Processing and selling of marula kernels is done solely by women, and the money received is also controlled exclusively by them.

  • The fruit contains more vitamin C than orange.
  • The kernels have a higher protein and oil content than most other popular nuts (walnut, hazelnut, chestnut and almond). They are also rich in magnesium, phosphorus and potassium.
  • The oil is highly nutritious and extraordinarily stable, containing a large proportion of mono-unsaturated fatty acids, vitamin C and E, and antioxidants. Marula oil has a similar fatty acid composition to olive oil; however, it is up to 10 times more resistant than olive oil to oxidation and rancidity.
The fruit pulp can be made into nuggets, fruit rolls, sticks, jams and jellies. Marula juice could be a raw material for the beverage and confectionary industry. The nuts can be eaten like any other nut or made into nut butter (substitute for peanut butter). The nut oil is an excellent salad/cooking oil. It absorbs quickly and is highly moisturising thus making it ideal for use in cosmetic products also. It is used in skin, eye and anti-aging face creams, baby and hair care.
The best opportunity on the local market lies in the food industry. There is also growing demand for the cold-pressed ‘cosmetic’ oil locally from SMEs that sell the oil either in pure form or formulate skin and hair-care products. The oil has good export potential. Inefficiencies in current processing technologies (nut cracking and kernel extraction) hinder commercial development; a variety of processing equipment is being looked at.

Some recipes using marula