The baobab harvest is finished for this year, "said Martin Späth at the end of July and showed himself thirsty:" It should rain now, then we could plant. But the climate change has also reached us, and the rain is delayed. "Späth is a trained at ETH Zurich food engineer, who has relocated his residence and thus the operational center of its biofuel trade Biomega five years ago in Senegal. Since then, he has not only been able to advise but also provide strong support to his main supplier, Kaolack-based Baonane Sarl: in the purchase, cultivation and processing of agricultural raw materials. Thanks to his initiative, Baonane products today are mostly Fairtrade certified and labeled as "bio". 

The main focus of the working group Biomega / Baonane was for a long time on the powdery fruit of the Baobab, also known as baobab. "We are one of the big producers of baobab pulp," says Späth, "although the world market is small and probably does not make up more than 500 tons." In order to make baobab and other natural raw materials from Africa a breakthrough, scientific research would be needed physiological effect, says Späth. Unfortunately, due to the low market volumes that the products currently achieve, it is still lacking interest from investors to finance studies.

The demand for baobab tends to be rising, but the concrete demand is difficult to calculate due to a lack of purchase agreements. Späth: "The companies then order when they need it. Therefore, every year the question arises for us: Do we want to have the courage and produce more? And then we have too little every year. " 

Wider portfolio

For some years Späth also traded with baobab oil. In retrospect, he speaks of a "troublesome story with big ups and downs" and explains: "It was mostly tedious and expensive, until we clarified that the product meets European and American standards." Meanwhile, some natural cosmetics companies have discovered the oil. Späth could still produce much more than the market currently buys him.

Two years ago, he decided to join in the worldwide natural health and cosmetics industry with other oil specialties from Senegal. It was clear to him that he had sales opportunities only with not completely unknown goods. First experiments he started with the seeds of the wild desert and the Neem tree. In addition, he experimented with the seeds of hibiscus and Moringa, both shrubs that can be grown. Sesame seed squeezing is also an option for him. 

Oil-rich seeds in Senegal (from left to right): desert date, neem, hibiscus, moringa

The financial hurdle for the project was taken when the Agency for Austrian Development Cooperation, the Austrian Development Agency ADA, provided support in the form of a Economic Partnerships promised - five years ago, such a thing had also made it possible to prepare the baobab market. ADA Program Manager Lukas Hecke explains the promotion primarily by the opening of new income opportunities by the commercialization of scarcely used raw materials in a poor region. 

To the factory

Ama Mbaye, Managing Director of Baonane, on the oil press

As part of the cooperation, Späth wants to produce oil samples this summer and test their properties. “For the time being, it's about quality, not quantity,” he explains. Baonane assists him in applying the seeds, and a food technologist is at his side during the investigations. At the next international food fair, Biofach in Nuremberg in February 2020, the food specialist wants to present samples and sound out preferences. After that, production can really start. By the end of 2020, if everything works, the first 15 tons of oil should have already been sold.

Biomega founder Martin Späth at the Foodex trade fair in Tokyo
Biomega founder Martin Späth at the Foodex trade fair in Tokyo

The procurement of seeds does not represent a small effort. Baonane is expected to work with around 50 wild collectors and 25 cultivation groups in the region. The success of the collectors also depends on their compliance with the law and that they come to an agreement with the communities in which they want to harvest wild fruits. “Organic certification is not a problem with wild collections,” says Späth. 

The situation is different with the planting of oilseed producing plants. With the support of a university or agricultural school, Späth wants to provide well-founded farmers with knowledge of organic farming, some of whom already deliver baoan, with the support of a university or agricultural school. "The success of the project also depends on whether it succeeds in persuading farmers to introduce crop rotations or to use biofertilisers in addition to environmentally friendly weed and pest control," he says. Ultimately, however, the organic agriculture in Senegal must be strengthened, Späth is convinced. He wants to set up a separate association with farmers and companies with a competence center. 

Meanwhile, the rain has begun and Späth could start on newly leased land with the Moringapflanzung. Through his own cultivation, he can gain experience and is then not completely dependent on external suppliers in oil production. 


Manufacturer of top seeds

Biomega eU 2004 was founded by Martin A. Späth as a trading company for organic vegetable raw materials. The food and cosmetics industry is mainly addressed in Europe. The sole proprietorship is located in Styrian Tragöß, the warehouse in Salzburg, main source of supply is Baonane Sarl in Kaolack, Senegal. Under the supervision of Austria Bio-Garantie, Späth today mainly imports baobab pulp and oil to Austria.

Photos: Biomega