Knowledge on Sclerocarya birrea subsp. caffra with emphasis on its importance as a non-timber forest product in South and southern Africa: a summary: part 2: commercial use, tenure and policy, domestication, intellectual property rights and benefit-sharing: review paper

  • Rachel Wynberg
  • Jill Cribbins
  • Roger Leakey
  • Cyril Lombard
  • Myles Mander
  • Sheona Shackleton
  • Caroline Sullivan


Sclerocarya birrea (marula) forms an integral part of the diet, tradition and culture of rural communities in southern Africa and also is central to various commercial initiatives. This second part of a review on the species provides an overview of current commercial activities, the policy framework within which commercialisation occurs, and future prospects with regard to domestication. Much work has been conducted over the years on the properties of S. birrea fruit, juice, nuts and oil. Despite this research there has been little commercialisation. Two main commercial enterprises trade marula products in South Africa: one, a large corporation, and the other, a rural development project. In Namibia, marula commercialisation is undertaken through a collaborative project between primary producers, a cooperative, contract processors and a local NGO. Commercialisation is influenced by a wide set of customary and government laws which regulate marula use in southern Africa, comprising different tenure systems, access rights, and levels of protection. Strong customary rules can be linked to the long history of marula use in the region, with clear evidence of early domestication and the selection of desirable traits by local people. Such knowledge has been applied in the development of marula domestication strategies, both by private plant breeders in Israel and southern Africa, and by the International Centre for Research in Agroforestry (ICRAF), which works with small-scale farmers to develop agroforestry options. A number of issues are raised by the domestication of marula which relate to intellectual property and benefitsharing. They include the compensation of small-scale farmers and original holders of local knowledge for the commercial use of such knowledge ; the impact of Plant Breeder's Rights on communities using marula; and the possibility of domestication shifting benefits from poorer groups of farmers to richer ones. Current and future commercialisation strategies clearly need to take these factors into account, and to balance associated costs and benefits.

Southern African Forestry Journal No.196 2002: 67-78

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eISSN: 2070-2639
print ISSN: 2070-2620