Sclerocarya birrea (marula) is a widespread species throughout the semi-arid, deciduous savannas of much of sub-Saharan Africa. It is widely used by rural populations in most countries in which it is found. It has multiple uses, including the fruits, kernels, oil, bark, wood and leaves. Because of these multiple uses, and its significance in the landscape, several African cultures have specific beliefs and ceremonies associated with this species, and it is often maintained in homestead and arable plots. Because of the widespread occurrence, potentially high fruit production and use of S. birrea it has frequently been identified as a key species to support the development of rural enterprises based on the fruit, beer, oil or nuts and therefore as a species for potential domestication. Localised breeding and cultivation initiatives commenced in the 1970s and some continue. Interest in this species was renewed after the development of a highly successful liqueur using extracts from the fruit. This has developed further in southern Africa over the last 3 to 5 years, especially commercialisation initiatives orientated towards befitting the rural poor. Recently, the UK Department for International Development (DFID) initiated a project to examine the impacts of commercialisation of non-timber forest products, such as marula, on the livelihood capital of the rural poor. As a first phase, the research team compiled a comprehensive literature review of S. birrea , with emphasis on possible commercialisation. This is to be published in two parts. The first part deals with the taxonomy, ecology and its subsistence use and cultural value to rural households. The second part of the review will focus on issues relating to specific properties of the marula, management, intellectual property and its potential commercialisation.
Southern African Forestry Journal No.194 2002: 27-42