corporAID: You started professional production of marula oil in Namibia in the 1990s. How were the beginnings?
Cyril Lombard: At that time I started organizing groups of women in Namibia who collected marula seeds. There was almost no commercial production, so no major international customers and no marula oil products on the global market. Everything was new and real pioneer work. Our first customer was the cosmetics manufacturer Bodyshop, who used marula oil for color cosmetic products. That was the breakthrough, not just for us, but for marula oil in general.
How is the market developing at the moment?
Lombard: Very well! Consumer interest is growing and more and more brand manufacturers want to use the oil in their products, especially in the US. Demand for high-quality oil is now outstripping supply, although the overall market for marula oil is still quite small. If the marula sector professionalizes and networks, marula could have a similar success story to argan oil.
Is this realistic?
Lombard: In the long term, the full potential of the marula fruit should be exploited commercially, not only for international markets but also in Africa itself. We are therefore working with the German development agency GIZ and many other players from southern Africa on a sector development plan for marula. In the future, juices, extracts and pulp could also be processed for export. The protein-rich press cake that remains after oil production does not have to end up as chicken feed either. It could represent a new answer to the growing global appetite for plant-based proteins.
The marula fruit is not yet approved as a food in the EU. When could it be?
Lombard: For two years we have been working intensively on the extensive dossier that we need for the European approval of marula as a so-called novel food. We hope to receive these by the end of 2023. We are already intensifying our communication with the food industry and showing companies how they can use the fruit. In general, a number of plants grow in Africa from which new ingredients and innovative products can be created. There are great opportunities for the economic development of the continent, for new companies and jobs. We already have that Baobab seen, the fruits of which are now approved in the EU and the USA. Development cooperation should therefore give African products more support in gaining access to international markets. An important step would be to provide technical support for the complex approval procedures. That would have enormous leverage.
Thank you for the interview.
You can find more information about Marula here: ABioSA (ABS-compliant Value Chains in South(ern) Africa)