MBABANE, Swaziland - Swaziland is one of the poorest countries in the world. But a new local industry - based on the marula tree - is helping the rural poor earn some income.
They say money does not grow on trees, but for Sibongile Ndzinisa, it kind of does. In her backyard, the fallen fruits from her marula tree are her new source of income. She supplies the local factory which makes cosmetic products out of the marula nut kernel. Each day, she cracks nuts. And every two weeks, she brings bags of kernels to the factory. They buy them from her for about $3.35 per kilo. Ndzinisa, who lives with her husband and her grandson, says she now makes about $37 per month.
“It didn't completely change my life, but at least it allows me to buy some food and get what I need for the house, so it does make a little difference,” Ndzinisa said.
Just a few years ago, Ndzinisa would not have thought you could make anything out of the marula tree fruit other than alcohol. She learned about the new business opportunity from the village chief.
Standing in the middle of the countryside, this factory is where Swazi Secret cosmetic products are made and marketed as 100% organic. The marula nut kernels are pressed to extract their rich oil which is used in body lotion, soaps, and lip balm. Zanele Nsibande, the commercial manager, says marula oil is an excellent moisturizer.
“It's known for its natural antioxidants. It's rich in vitamin E. It's got anti-age properties. It's a moisturizer. It's not like real oil, because it's not oily. It goes smooth into your skin and we had different feedback from customers that it reduces stretch marks from women,” Nsibande said.
Nsibande credits the queen of Swaziland for helping found the business concept here, after noting it at work in Botswana. The factory opened in 2005 thanks to the sponsorship of the Kellogg Foundation. Today, the factory has 15 seasonal workers, and 3,000 women providing kernels. They prepare boxes for shipment to Germany, the United-States and France - the biggest market for marula products.
At the main mall of Mbabane, Swaziland's capital city, the Green Cross pharmacy proudly displays the locally made cosmetics on the shelves. Saleswoman Rose Nyembe says they are very popular with foreigners.
“They are quite popular, because most of the people who are from out of the country buy the most. Sometimes you find the person needs bags of different types of marula things. It can be a good gift, because it's not something you know, it's something different,“ Nyembe said.
And with more than 2 million marula trees growing naturally in the small kingdom, Swaziland's newest industry may have a bright future.