Swaziland’s natural future

01 January 2011 | News story

The natural products industry is growing exponentially in Southern Africa. Incomes have increased throughout the supply chain—from primary producers and processing companies to community-based enterprises. A major factor in the increase in revenue is organic and fair trade certification.

Swazi Indigenous Products is a not-for-profit company established to create opportunities for rural women in Swaziland. The company promotes sustainable and ethical trade in products made from oil of kernels from Marula, an indigenous and widespread tree. Massage oil, soap, shampoo, shower gel and lip balm are among the range of Marula products.

In 2006, the Natural Futures Programme, jointly implemented by IUCN and PhytoTrade Africa, the Southern African Natural Products Trade Association, provided support to Swazi Indigenous Products for organic certification of Marula oil. Organic certification allows the company to secure a 50% price premium on bulk oil sales to Europe which is passed down to harvesters.

Local women like Khelina Hluphekile Magagula have been sourcing and supplying Marula oil in the communal lands of rural Swaziland for several years.

“I am divorced and have seven children and two grandchildren that I look after. I use the income earned from Marula kernels to take care of us in many ways,” says Khelina. From this income I buy the maize-meal to feed my family and other basics like laundry soap, sugar and salt and to pay the school fees for my grandchildren. I also use the money to buy ingredients for food I make and sell in the community during the Marula off–season.”

Khelina says the business from Marula has allowed married women to make their own decisions about how to use the money. Previously they depended entirely on their husbands who would decide how to use the income from livestock and crop sales.

Khelina now earns 20% more than she did working as a mat weaver. More importantly, the collection and cracking of Marula kernels does not require as much time away from home as the mat weaving did, which included a week’s travel for reed harvesting each month.

In Khelina’s village, the rise in value of Marula has resulted in renewed interest in organic farming, sustainable use and stewardship of Marula trees. Residents have also established a market that coincides with Marula kernel procurement days to take advantage of the increased cash income in the community.

Khelina says that she could not imagine how her family and other community members could have managed without income from natural products, especially in recent periods of drought. She now qualifies as a member of credit and savings schemes that offer loans to community members and has greater independence in spending her income.