At six o’clock in the morning the temperatures at Kamutsenzere Grain Marketing Board in the Mount Darwin Area of Zimbabwe already seem too hot to make a significant move. Nevertheless, we break camp after a short night, have a quick breakfast and head into the bush – we will meet women collecting baobab fruit for B’Ayoba – a company based in Harare selling baobab fruit powder and oil.
As I am on my “baobab mission” we agreed with the team that we can stop whenever I see an extraordinary baobab. Which is not too difficult in the area because there are plenty and to my taste – all of them are worth stopping for. But I do not want to overstretch the patience of my travel companions.
In the village of Chiswiti there is no way around it: we have to stop. Out of the corner of my eye I caught sight of a magnificent specimen. I jump out of the car and walk towards the oddly shaped baobab. My surroundings are forgotten – the tree absorbs all my attention and I wonder what made it grow the way it did.
Ray Flight is with me and together we examine the old tree. It seems to be hollow inside. I am surprised about its architecture and astonished about the fact that it had not collapsed yet. While being rooted to this spot it must have “seen” wondrous things over the many years it had been there. Time passes quickly and suddenly I can make out people talking next to the car.
Our abrupt stop in the middle of the village has attracted some attention. Our “visitor” is Chief Chiswiti as people call him here. He was wondering what our visit was all about. Fran Patsika is ready to explain and the chief happily agrees to chat about baobab with me.
To him and the people in the area, working with B’Ayoba shed a new light on baobab and its fruit. He explains that before the company came people did not realize they could utilize “Mauyu” – how baobab fruit is called here – like that: collect and sell them for money. “Of course there are a lot here… There are some which are sour, there are some which are a bit sweet. So those which are sour people would just leave them in the bush.”
He continues to explain that since B’Ayoba buys Mauyu people benefit because the money helps them. “Even if they get a Dollar they get maybe sugar, salt whatever it might be.” Old people, particularly old women live in the village who cannot rely on family for support because they do not have children. He continues “if she gets in the bush she finds baobab and she sells it to B’Ayoba.” This way she can earn some extra money to help her make a living in the area.
The area around Chiswiti has vast amounts of resources but not all necessarily agriculturally useful. Here, baobab seems to be a great opportunity for people to diversify their income strategies. Particularly old people with little or no support or women who take care of children benefit from income that selling the fruit of the baobab provides.
The Chief is satisfied with our explanation of why we stopped at Chiswiti and we are content with his view of the situation he was friendly enough to share with us. I add another argument to my list why it is important for the people in the area to sell baobab fruit.