BAOBAB Producers Trust has started producing baobab fruit-based products at its plant in Lukosi, Hwange district with some already flooding the market.
The trust which was formed in 2014 through the assistance of Southern Alliance for Indigenous Resources (Safire) has since started producing freezits, baobab powder and oil with more than 30 000 units having found their way into the market since last month.
The project is expected to economically empower rural communities while promoting value addition and beneficiation of indigenous resources.
Trust co-ordinator Mrs Constance Liteta, said production started after the rehabilitation of a disused building donated by Hwange Rural District Council was completed.
The project is expected to economically benefit more than 3 000 households.
“We have started producing and currently been churning out 2 000 units of baobab fruit freezits per day. We are also in the process of packaging other products such as powder and oil which we extract from the baobab fruit. Our freezit processing machine has a maximum capacity to produce 1 600 in seven minutes which translates to 10 000 units per day. However, as a result of some technical glitches here and there we are making 2 000 units per day. We are supplying the freezits to Hwange and Victoria Falls markets for now while we are still surveying the business environment. We have also started producing bio-oil which we are selling for $4 a bottle,” said Mrs Liteta.
She said Safire and local council were instrumental in the formation of the Trust by providing a disused building which was renovated to suit the specifications of the fruit processing factory.
“We expect it to be complete by the end of July, we are also in the process of building toilets. Safire through funds from European Union (EU) funded the construction of the factory, trainings and purchase of machines,” she said.
The Trust is run by an eight-member board, a mixture of youths and women who oversee its operations and has 400 members in the four wards Nekabandama, Makwandara, Nekatambe and Change.
“Although we have more than 400 members directly involved with the project the expansion exercise which we have embarked on such as the setting up of the factory is going to benefit more people. Members of the community who are not members in their respective committees will be allowed to sell the baobab fruit to the factory for processing hence everybody is benefiting from the project.
The Trust will also produce cooking oil, soap, lotion, medicines and pulp which will be used to make freezits and yoghurts.
The powder is a rich fortifier especially for foods while the oil is believed to be an ingredient for cosmetics that moisturise the skin.
She said the project was spearheaded by Safire through formation of committees in four wards which were trained in sustainable utilisation of natural resources, particularly the baobab tree, which is abundant in the district.
Mrs Liteta said they were also carrying out awareness campaigns on the need to plant trees ahead of the official launch of the factory.
“We are also encouraging the planting of trees, especially baobab which will be the major raw material in the processing when we are crushing and refining the fruit which will make the yoghurt, soap, cooking oil and lotion. No seeds will be left out for planting. We are not the only ones with nurseries who should plant alone but we call upon the communities to make sure that they plant trees in their respective places,” she said.
Mrs Liteta said the organisation was however, facing hindrances that ranged from transportation, markets and access of equipment consumables.
“Currently we are facing challenges with transporting our products to markets in Hwange and elsewhere. We have had to use public transport to send the products which at times can erode our coffers since the operators charge exorbitantly. Another challenge is refrigerators to store some of the products that require special temperatures.”
Safire has since facilitated market linkages on behalf of the trust with supermarkets and companies.
Research into the baobab fruit tree had shown that baobab fruit can be sustainably harvested for commercialisation.
Besides containing Vitamin C which helps in skin healing, baobab fruit is a rich indigenous locally and readily available fortifier of foods.
Baobab fruit is vast in Hwange district with trees growing everywhere in the bush and neighbourhoods.
In most areas people pick the fruit which is most pulled down by wind and use it to prepare porridge, juices or consume it in its original state. Enterprising individuals usually stand by the Victoria Falls-Bulawayo Road selling the fruit to motorists.