Generations of African rural communities have used locally grown plant extracts and oils for nutritional, medicinal and cosmetic purposes. One such plant product is marula oil, which is extracted from the fruit kernels of the marula tree, native to southern Africa. Previously unheard of outside of Africa, the oil is becoming increasingly popular because of its superb antioxidant, nourishing and moisturising properties.
The increasing global demand for marula oil and other seed oils brings enormous potential to local producers in southern African countries. Swazi Indigenous Products (SIP) is a community-owned company that strives to empower rural women in the fight against poverty, generate income sustainably and create high quality natural products using traditional indigenous knowledge. SIP is an accredited Fair Trade Organization and operates in line with the highest standards of Fair Trade. The company operates from a small factory in Mpaka, in the heart of the Swazi lowveld, producing a range of natural cosmetics products using marula oil and other natural plant-based ingredients.
Around 2,000 rural Swazi women generate much-needed income by selling marula nuts at fair trade prices. Many of the harvesters live in extremely poor, drought-stricken areas and have previously relied on UN Food Aid to survive. Through their sales of marula seeds, the women now earn the money needed to buy basic food and clothing, access medical care and pay school fees. With production set to increase, thanks to an increase in consumer demand, local women will be able to improve their situations even more.
SIP staff travel into the rural communities to buy the kernels, weighing and grading them at source to ensure high quality raw material. The kernels are then brought to the factory at Mpaka where they are manually cold pressed to produce pure, natural marula oil. The oil is then tested in the laboratory to ensure that only top quality is produced. SIP then exports the oil to cosmetics companies or uses it in the company's own skin care oils and natural cosmetics.
Instead of just simply exporting the oil as a commodity product to cosmetics companies in the developed world, SIP adds value locally with its own range of pure, simple and natural cosmetics, including lip balms, shower gels and hand lotions. In addition, SIP has gained organic certification for its marula oil, becoming the first Swazi organisation to achieve this.
Swaziland retains a wonderful biodiversity of indigenous plants and trees and as elsewhere in the world, that biodiversity is under threat. SIP works in harmony with its surroundings and is completely environmentally sustainable. Marula fruit is left to fall when ripe and just 5000 of the two million marula trees in Swaziland are used to meet current requirements. In addition, the company is working with suppliers on community planting of a range of indigenous trees.
Eileen Murphy is the founder of Scotia Fair Trade, a business that promotes Fair Trade natural skin care products and crafts from Africa, Asia and South America. Visit http://www.scotiafairtrade.com for more information.