Marula (Sclerocarya birrea subsp. caffra)

Marula (Sclerocarya birrea subsp. caffra) is a rich natural transboundary resource in southern Africa with ecological, economic and social significance. It is widely distributed in a broad and varied landscape, interacting with many different cultures, perceptions and belief systems. Marula is classified as a least concern status and the most recent resource assessment was done in 2008, according to the SA National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI).

Various studies have been done by academic institutions to quantify the Marula resource and there is currently a proposal for a regional resource assessment and monitoring programme for Marula in Southern Africa, covering South Africa, Eswatini, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Zambia and secondary countries such as Mozambique, Malawi, Madagascar and Angola. Marula is not listed on CITES and does not have any NDFs. Customary law and regulation forbid the destruction of female Marula trees and enforcement of these regulations is at the discretion of communities as custodians of the resource. Risks to the survival of the specie include overgrazing by sheep and goats, overharvesting and commercialisation, drought and pests, and the impact of elephants and frequent fires in Kruger National Park. Currently there is no BMP for Marula.

The Marula sector in Southern Africa has significant potential to expand production and enter new markets, a process that requires coordinated technical support at a sector level. The ABioSA project has made critical progress towards a sector-level approach to European Union (EU) and other markets, including an understanding of international market regulations and what is required of local producers and product manufacturers. The Marula economic sector has the potential to stimulate rural development, job creation and new export markets, with spin-off benefits in technology, innovation, small business development and skills. It can contribute to social, environmental and financial sustainability.

ABioSA consultants have recommended Traditional Food (TF) as the route for regulatory approval and marketing authorisation for Marula fruit. They recommended Full Novel Foods (FNF) approval as the route for regulatory approval and marketing authorisation for Marula oil.

Sustainable use

There are harvesting guidelines used by the Marula sector to train harvesters. Cultivation and production protocols are also in place for the resource.

Best practices and guidelines are becoming more important to the Marula sector because of the increase in demand for the resource. Sustainable practices include only using male trees for firewood, not harvesting Marula fruit directly off the tree, and using thorny bushes around trees to prevent livestock from grazing the trees. There have been many attempts to set up cultivation, including community forests in north central Namibia. Marula is a central species of the World Agroforestry Centre and many seedling production trials were carried out across Southern Africa.

There is a view amongst some practitioners that the relatively recent commercialisation of Marula has increased the awareness of the value of the trees to communities and households who now protect some seedlings to go to term.  However, at the same time aerial surveys and producer reports indicate a decline in the numbers of Marula trees, which is cause for concern.

Right to use and access to genetic resources

The supply of Marula fruit and kernels exceeds the demand, meaning that suppliers of fruit and kernels are price takers with no leverage to increase price. Other barriers include the cost of accessing organic and fair-trade certification, lack of access to incentives for compliance testing and certification, difficulty in providing a compliant product and consequently obtaining approval of finished Marula products in the international market.