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Natural Products - commercial utilization

Author: Dr Lucy A Welford - PhytoTrade Africa

( Article Type: Overview )

As the world becomes more toxic, consumers are turning to more healthy natural alternatives that also support environmental regeneration. ‘Natural’ products are derived directly from plants, or contain raw materials derived from plants. Africa, home to around a quarter of the world’s biodiversity, has vast resources of indigenous plant life. There are an estimated 1000 African plant species with potential for commercial use in natural products, but less than five per cent of these are currently being used commercially. Most of these plants remain little known or unknown outside Africa, although they have been gathered for thousands of years by African people and used as traditional foods and remedies.

Sustainability and ethical trade in the natural products industry
In order to protect the environment and secure a long term source of income for poor rural communities, it is crucial that the natural products industry in southern Africa develops in a sustainable manner. For this reason, trade associations such as PhytoTrade Africa encourage commercial use only of those parts of wild plants that can be harvested sustainably (primarily the fruits and seeds, rather than bark or roots). PhytoTrade Africa guarantees the sustainable harvesting of indigenous plant products by ensuring its members are compliant to a strict Ethical BioTrade charter that adheres to the principles of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. PhytoTrade also works in partnership with other organizations, such as IUCN (the International Union for the Conservation of Nature) and UNCTAD, to develop robust international policies and processes.

Natural products of Southern Africa
The following southern African plant species are examples of natural products that are under sustainable commercialization in southern Africa. The baobab tree Adansonia digitata is found in abundance across southern Africa and can live for up to 3000 years or more, growing to huge sizes. The fruit has exceptional nutritional properties and the oil from the seeds is used in the cosmetics industry.
Devil’s Claw -- Harpagophytum procumbens and H. zeyheri
This unusual plant is found in the arid sands of the Kalahari desert. Used by bushmen for centuries as a remedy for many ailments, Devil’s Claw is increasingly being used in the West as a natural treatment for inflammatory conditions.
Kalahari melons -- Cucurbitaceae
The Tsamma melon or wild watermelon has traditionally been a crucial source of water in the Kalahari. The seeds are rich in a clear, yellow oil with skin moisturizing and regenerating properties.
Mongongo tree -- Schinziophyton rautanenii
Mongongo fruit has long been part of the staple diet of some southern African people. The nut of the fruit produces an oil which is both highly nutritious and softens and regenerates the skin, making mongongo oil suitable for use in both food and cosmetic products.
Mobola Plum -- Parinari curatellifolia
The mobola plum is high in Vitamin C and minerals, while the seed oil has protective qualities for the skin and hair.
Marula -- Sclerocarya birrea
The golf ball-sized marula fruit is common throughout southern Africa and has juicy, fibrous flesh surrounding two or three oil-rich seeds. The fruit is rich in Vitamin C and the nourishing seed oil is already gaining a reputation as a ‘miracle oil’ among Western cosmetics manufacturers.
Sausage tree -- Kigelia africana
The unique, green sausage-shaped fruits grow up to a metre in length and can weigh more than ten kilos. Kigelia has a long traditional history as a treatment for skin complaints. Several scientific papers support its use to treat skin cancer as well as many less severe conditions.
Trichilia -- Trichilia emetica
The soft, vivid red Trichilia seeds can yield 20 litres of oil per tree. The oil is solid at room temperature and known as mafura butter. It is rich in essential fatty acids which the human body cannot synthesize but are key to good health.
• Ximenia -- Ximenia spp.
Ximenia is named after the 17th century monk Francisco Ximenez. The plum-like fruits are high in Vitamin C and used in jams, jellies and syrups. The seed oil has anti-inflammatory and emollient properties when applied to the skin.

Associated Organisations:

Rebtex Pty Ltd , V-Core (Pty) Ltd