Making baobab famous: Taking an African superfood to the European mainstream


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Baobab trees are not cultivated, but grow in 32 countries across Africa
Baobab trees are not cultivated, but grow in 32 countries across Africa

Related tags Africa

Aduna aims to create sustainable African businesses by using little-known local crops – starting with baobab – says its co-founder, Andrew Hunt.

Founded in 2012, the company hopes to create demand for underutilised natural products from small African producers. The global market for baobab has grown in the past few years, and Aduna’s products are now available in 1000 stores in 10 markets, but Hunt says there is still work to be done to ‘bridge the chasm’ and expand baobab’s use from its base of early adopters to mainstream consumers.

Speaking at the Sustainable Foods Summit in Amsterdam earlier this month, he said many African aid projects have seen (mainly female) farmers invest time and effort in crops for western markets without first asking whether such markets exist. But one major difference with baobab is that it is not cultivated; no one owns the trees that grow in 32 African countries, and nearly all of the nutrient-rich, tangy baobab fruit currently goes to waste. Hunt claims baobab could be worth as much as $1bn to African households.

There is no such thing as a baobab plantation, and every tree is community-owned, meaning that 10m households potentially could supply the fruit.

“It doesn’t need irrigation, land, refrigeration or fertiliser,”​ he said. “Superfoods are the fastest growing part of the health ingredients market and baobab wipes the floor with most of them.”

Despite hurdles with novel foods regulation – which PhytoTrade Africa gained for baobab fruit pulp in 2008 – as well as restrictions on health claims, Aduna aims to market baobab primarily as a superfood. Hunt says its high vitamin C content – said to be ten times that of orange pulp – is the main platform for marketing its superfood status, but it also has more calcium than milk and is rich in iron, phosphorous, B vitamins, magnesium and antioxidants. It has a citrusy flavour and also acts as a natural flavour enhancer.

Hunt says his mission is to make baobab famous – a goal that could get a helping hand in the coming days, as the company is a semi-finalist in the Pitch to Rich competition​, which gives entrepreneurs the chance to pitch their products to Richard Branson with a chance to win a £250,000 marketing campaign. Voting closes on June 16 and Aduna was in the runner-up position at the time of publishing, standing to win a £100,000 prize.

Hunt thinks the extra publicity could help bring baobab into the public eye.

Nevertheless other challenges remain, including ensuring child labour is not used to harvest the fruit, safety equipment is provided and correctly used – as well as the 18-20 years it takes for the trees to fruit.

“Work needs to be done to domesticate the baobab trees. We need to plan how to develop a dwarf baobab tree that yields every five years, like mango trees,”​ said Hunt.

In addition, he is keen to emphasise that baobab is not a staple crop in Africa, so European use of the fruit would not compete with local food supplies.

According to Phytotrade Africa’s supply chain manager, Arthur Stevens, Zimbabwe alone could produce up to 20,000 tonnes of baobab powder per year. Currently it uses about 100 tonnes locally and another 100 tonnes is exported.

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