Baobab (Adansonia digitata)

Baobab (Adansonia digitata) is a trans-boundary resource which has moved from an emerging to intermediate sector over the past twenty years and is approaching maturity. Baobab trees are found in Limpopo and Mpumalanga provinces in South Africa, as well as in Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe and other African countries. Baobab has stable populations and is classified as of least concern. It is commercialised in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi. Baobab trees are currently not cultivated, but there is a sapling project underway to repopulate wild spaces and help harvester communities to plant new trees.Baobab is not listed on CITES and does not have a Non-Detriment Finding. Risks to the species include high predation of immature fruit by baboons in nature reserves, lower rainfall due to climate change, adult tree mortality due to bark harvesting, deforestation, and bushfires which inhibit regeneration.

The fruits and seeds have a long history of traditional use, and Baobab products are today produced and exported from at least ten African countries. From humble beginnings in the early 2000s, Baobab has become an important economic sector, especially significant to the tens of thousands of mostly women harvesters in marginal dryland areas of Africa who generate an annual income from harvesting and selling the fruit. In addition to primary producers, the industry creates employment and value-addition opportunities at several stages in the value chain. By 2020, exports of Baobab powder from southern Africa had grown to 438 tonnes per annum, with estimated local market sales of 288 tonnes. International oil sales were at seven tonnes and oil sales in southern Africa amounted to 11 tonnes. The value of the Baobab industry to Africa has risen enormously, with tens of thousands of small-scale harvesters involved in the supply chain and many SMEs engaged in processing and value-addition. Baobab is still a niche product, but there is a lot of growth potential.


Before 2001, no Baobab products complied with the regulatory requirements of any major export market. It took Phytotrade Africa seven years to register Baobab powder as a Novel Food in the European Union. This was closely followed by registration in the US as an FDA GRAS (Generally Recognised As Safe) ingredient. These two registrations opened the door for regulatory approval in other territories around the world. PhytoTrade also facilitated donor-funded safety testing for acceptance of Baobab oil, preparing the dossiers that allowed it to be sold as an international cosmetic ingredient.

The Baobab industry today exists as a result of collaboration on many levels between producers, researchers, support organisations and brands.


South Africa, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique, the main exporters of Baobab oil and powder in southern Africa, ratified the Convention on Biological Diversity between 1993 and 1995, as did Senegal, Kenya and some North African countries. By the time the Baobab export trade started around 2010, most African exporter nations had ratified the CBD.

The key component of the CBD impacting the Baobab trade is the requirement for signatory nations to develop and administer laws and regulations relating to Access and Benefit-Sharing (ABS). This requirement has been reinforced by the more recent Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization, to which most African Baobab producer countries are signatories. At present, the monitoring and enforcement of ABS regulations varies considerably between African countries and there is significant variance in compliance.


The harvesting of Baobab fruit, from which the powder and oil is derived, is sustainable because the tree is not removed or damaged, and Baobab is not on the CITES list of endangered species. The increased value of Baobab fruit following the growth of the export industry has provided an incentive for local communities to value and protect the trees.

Harvesting guidelines have been developed and are used to train harvesters, and mechanisms are in place to avoid and minimize the waste of raw materials in production. Some companies involved with harvesting do annual fruit counts to match production trends and market demand.

In South Africa, the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act (NEMBA) regulates the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising out of the use of our natural genetic resources.

One of the key barriers to entry into the Baobab sector is the high cost of transport of raw material from remote rural areas to central processing facilities. Another barrier is to continuously attain high quality and food safety standards.