In a very strong field of international finalists which included the corporate giant Barry Callebaut, the UK-based botanical extracts manufacturer Blue Sky Botanics Ltd was announced as runner-up for the 2022 Sustainable Ingredient Award for their FairWild Baobab Fruit Purée. This is the first time that a FairWild-certified product has featured at the prestigious Sustainable Food Awards. For over a decade, the FairWild Foundation has championed the positive social and environmental benefits that sustainable wild-harvesting of natural products can deliver to rural communities across the world. Now industry is finally listening.
Blue Sky Botanics was chosen, in part, because their Baobab Fruit Purée production line is 100% powered by renewable energy (40% from onsite solar panels and the rest from a renewable energy provider) and the process uses large volumes of clean water which is recycled back into production. However, the judges also wanted to see that the purée’s sustainability credentials spanned the entire supply chain, and that is where FairWild certification played a major role in its selection.
The Baobab fruit raw material used in the purée is wild-harvested by rural communities in Zimbabwe and supplied by Baobab Exports Ltd, who together with leading producers B’Ayoba and EcoProducts form one of Africa’s longest FairWild certified Baobab operations. The term wild-harvesting refers to the collecting of wild plant products from unmanaged land. However, FairWild is the only independently audited standard that explicitly measures and combines the biodiversity impacts of wild-harvesting with grassroots fair trade principles.
According to Emily King, the Business Engagement Officer for FairWild, “Not only does FairWild certification ensure that wild plant species are harvested sustainably, independent inspectors also monitor and confirm that local harvesters are treated fairly, which includes being paid a fair market rate for their produce”.
This ethical approach to Baobab production in Zimbabwe is helping to tackle two key issues: the systematic destruction of indigenous forests and biodiversity in many parts of the country caused by local communities clearing land for small-scale agriculture, and the lack of access to cash earning opportunities in areas where the average annual income in rural areas is just $100 per person. Money that is desperately needed to send their children to school and purchase household provisions.
In the parts of Zimbabwe where FairWild certification of Baobab is operating, it is not only helping to halt this destruction but also providing a small but essential seasonal cash income for its poorer rural villagers. By making it more valuable to these communities to protect their surrounding forests than clear them for subsistence agriculture, sustainable wild-harvesting is now a key mechanism through which the country’s precious biodiversity is being preserved. And this approach is proving to be hugely successful in delivering socioeconomic impacts as well. B’Ayoba’s Baobab sourcing operation has over 4,500 registered wild-harvesters on their books, each supporting an average of 5 other household members. Which means that the lives of an estimated 27,000 people in poor and marginalised areas of rural Zimbabwe are being positively impacted.
In addition, when a Baobab operation is FairWild certified, how and where the raw material is being sourced and harvested is carefully verified by authorised inspectors every year to ensure complete traceability and sustainability. Without this independent confirmation, some or all of the raw material may well have come from local markets or roadside sellers, who typically source it from vulnerable rural villagers at well below market value.
“Sourcing responsibly, protecting the environment and supporting biodiversity are all central to our approach and philosophy. But just because a product is wild-harvested, does not necessarily mean that it is aligned with these goals”, says Caroline Brevitt, Managing Director of Blue Sky Botanics. “That’s why the verification and monitoring programs under FairWild certification are so important. They provide us and our customers with the absolute certainty that our wild-harvested raw material is being produced sustainably and ethically”.
Baobab Fruit Purée’s selection as runner-up at the 2022 Sustainable Food Awards could be an indication that the food and beverage industries are finally waking up to FairWild certified products and the ethical and sustainable credentials that they have to offer.