Baobab grows Mushrooms

Baobab, around Mt. Darwin

Baobab, around Mt. Darwin

Emmanuel Masemore talks about change in his village based on sales of baobab fruit and about an extraordinary speciality which grows on the trees – unfortunately only once the trees are dead…

After our conversation with Chief Chiswiti we continue our journey on the dry dirt road, in search of new stories and exceptional baobabs. The trip to the remote villages of small farmers in the area around Mount Darwin is exhausting. The heat at 8 am is unbearable.

We approach Tsenga Village. On my left I spotted an exceptionally beautiful baobab – it is tall, hollow inside and has a huge hole which allows a glimpse of blue sky on its backside. We stop and I marvel at the beauty of the giant.

Baobab, Tsenga Village, Zimbabwe

Baobab, Tsenga Village, Zimbabwe

As always when our little group walks around one of the giants in a village, we attract attention. People gather around us. This time Emmanuel Masemore shares his story with us.

First, he confirms what we have learned from Chief Chiswiti. In former days, people saw the baobab as “any tree”. Its fruit and other natural products were used but it was not looked at as a resource that could be marketed and thus provide urgently needed income for people in the area.

Emmanuel Masemore, Tsenga Villagebwe

Emmanuel Masemore, Tsenga Village

Circumstances have changed since B’Ayoba, a Harare-based company, buys the fruit and money flows back to the area. Today at least those benefitting see the trees with different eyes, as Emmanuel pragmatically describes: “Every time I see flowers on a baobab, I see money”. Selling  fruit has a positive impact on the lives of people in the area, he adds.

Now that it is seen as a reliable source of income with manageable effort for the people involved, things change for the baobab as well. All the small farmers have to do is collect the fruit and bring it to a collecting point. Compared to the resource-intensive cotton which consumes large areas of arable land and is in competition for that with baobab, working with the latter makes quite a difference. People are now more willing to protect it from damage and deforestation.

Baobab, Tsenga Village

Baobab, Tsenga Village

As a result, small farmers can better afford to pay for school fees for their children and buy school books. I have come across this sentence quite often on my journey in Zimbabwe and South Africa.

Emmanuel has another baobab story in stock, which I had not heard before. He explains that one cannot only use fruit, leaves and seeds of the tree. Even fallen off branches or dead trees are still useful for people.

If he comes across a large baobab branch, he takes it to his field and simply leaves it there. Over time, the branch begins to rot. The process is accelerated when the rains start falling. As a result, edible mushrooms start growing on the decaying fibers. In Shona the mushrooms are called “Hohwa”, which literally translates as “mushroom of baobab”.

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