Eudafano Women’s Co-operative
A common sight in the rural areas north of Etosha is to see a woman sitting in the yard of the homestead breaking open the nutty Marula fruit and patiently extracting the kernels. Nearby, an old grandmother weaves a basket, teenagers plait hair, children play and laugh, and a pot simmers quietly on a small fire.
Women in the northern regions can often be seen with a basket of Marula nuts.
Typically, the Marula nuts are left to dry for a few months after the summer. This is perfect timing. During the winter months the women are not as busy in the fields and have more time on their hands to tend to other matters. The kernels are extracted with a flattened needle and then pounded with pestle and mortar to release their golden oil – ‘ondjove’, a delicious and popular condiment that is added to dishes like chicken and wild spinach.
While the outer part of the Marula fruit is eaten or used to make juice or wine, the nuts or stones are saved for their oil-rich kernels.
Food for the skin
It doesn’t stop there, however. The age-old traditional food source grew into an industry when Marula Oil was identified as a valuable economic product by the Centre for Research and Information in Africa, Southern African Development and Consulting (CRIAA SA-DC). Marula was found to nourish, hydrate and revitalise skin. The first feasibility studies took place in the mid-1990s. CRIAA SA-DC worked with several pre-existing producers’ associations, which later formed the Eudafano Women’s Cooperative, Eudafano meaning ‘agreement’ or ‘common understanding’ in the local Oshikwanyama language.
A virgin African oil
The women carry out the labour-intensive kernel exaction at home, bringing in bags of kernels to sell through their co-operative associations to the Eudafano factory in Ondangwa. (Fresh Marula fruit is also brought in during the rainy season to make Marula juice.) The Marula kernels are manually cold-pressed and the virgin oil is used as a valuable ingredient in beauty and skin care products, including those sold at The Body Shop, their biggest customer. Melon seeds are also brought in and pressed for their quality oil used in moisturisers and massage oils.
Tsamma Melon seeds are cold-pressed for their moisturising oil, valued in body care products.
Melon and Marula cake, the by-products of the process, are bought by the community for feed for pigs, goats and chickens.
Linking the old and new
This successful women’s co-operative links two vastly different worlds, the traditional and modern. Importantly, it provides a source of income for rural women who use the money to purchase essential items for the homestead, pay school fees and cover transport and medical costs.
The tree of life
The generous Marula tree provides for all, while contributing to a way of life and an activity that has been carried out by generations of women.