Rural African women, who collect baobab fruit for a living, are given training in how to grow and nurture young baobab trees. Baobab seedlings are grown in home gardens until the trees are strong enough to survive being planted out. Trees are planted around homesteads and villages at a position chosen by the Baobab Guardians themselves. The location of each planted tree is recorded on a GPS so that the trees can be monitored. To ensure their survive during their most vulnerable period, each tree is looked after by its Guardian until it reaches 3 meters in height. At this height it will be safe from browsing and can survive on its own. The condition, height and diameter of each tree is recorded annually by the Guardians under the direction of Dr. Sarah Venter (Baobab Ecologist).
Support is given to the Baobab Guardians during the full length of the project period. This is done through training, mentorship and progress payments. Training curriculum focuses on the conservation and ecology of baobabs in a broad sense and then practical methods of germinating, growing and planting trees. The training, support and mentorship of the Guardians is done by Dr. Sarah Venter together with Venda-speaking experts in forestry and nursery practice. Furthermore, Baobab Guardians are given progress payments to encourage them to protect the trees from browsing and other damage and to keep the trees constantly watered.
Once a Guardian’s tree has reached its target 3-meter height, the Guardian will receive a beautiful framed certificate. It is expected that the certificate will be displayed on the wall or mantle-piece and thus encourage the Guardian to share their story with their friends, visitors and families. In this way precipitating a “culture of caring” and encouraging other people to plant baobab trees as well.
Baobabs are an iconic, very long-lived, African savanna tree species known throughout their range as a source of food, fibre and medicine. Baobab products have been traded for hundreds of years around African and recently fruit derivatives (powder and oil) are sold on global markets. Thus the understanding of their population size, recruitment, mortality, fruit production and general ecology is very important to ensure that the resource is sustainably used and that any threats to their populations can be dealt with quickly and appropriately.
Baobab Research Projects:
2.1 Baobab Pollination biology project: The pollination of baobab flowers is a poorly studied. Although baobab flowers are known to be bat pollinated in many parts of Africa, but in other areas hawkmoths are known to be the primary pollinators. It is very important to understand what pollinates baobab flowers and what may be influencing their movements and survival as any change in the pollinator behaviour will have implications for the survival of the species into the future. Baobab pollination research is co-ordinated by the Baobab Foundation works in collaboration with the University of the Witwatersrand, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Texas Tech University and the University of Venda.
2.2 Baobab Population ecology project: The Baobab Foundation conducts and supports long-term research into the structure of baobab populations around Africa. The focal research being at Musina Nature Reserve where now 30 years of data has been collected in ongoing monitoring. The data indicates changes in recruitment, mortality, size-class structure and density of baobabs in an elephant-free area.
2.3 Long-term growth research project: Research into the growth of baobabs was started in 1913 on Skelmwater, a research plot in the Limpopo province. The Baobab Foundation, working with other baobab researchers and visiting researchers, continue annual monitoring of the site.
2.4 Long-term fruit production monitoring project: Data on annual fruit production of a population of baobabs in northern Vhembe District was started in 2006. The Baobab Foundation engages with communities living in the area to collect the data and share information on fluctuations in fruit production. Long-term data will indicate regional, annual and between tree variation of fruit production.
3. Environmental Education
There is a huge amount of knowledge available on baobabs, but this information is inaccessible to the general public as it is mostly found in academic papers and articles. Furthermore, much of the information available on the internet is inaccurate. Thus, the Baobab Foundation has produced a well written, factual and easy to read information booklet that describes the ecology, distribution, taxonomy, uses, conservation importance and spiritual significance of baobabs. The booklet is given to the Baobab Guardians as part of their training as well as distributed local schools and conservation and tourism organisations and community leaders.
To create a wider awareness of the conservation of baobab trees, local Primary and Secondary schools are visited and Conservation Awareness events are arranged for the community, local traditional leadership and government officials.
4. Pre-School Support Programme
Women in rural villages are busy, on a daily basis, with tasks such as growing crops, trading in small goods, wild-harvesting foods and collecting firewood and water. Often, their work takes them away from the village and it’s not always practical or safe to keep their very young children with them. It therefore becomes the task of one or two other village women to care for young children and so informal pre-schools are set up.
These very small children require good food, a warm, clean and cosy place to nap, toys and safe play areas – but the reality is many of these pre-schools are little more than hard concrete floors surrounded by dusty unfenced grounds and at best, an old car tyre to play with.
In addition, the women who are the carers do not have a background in early childhood development and therefore the young children are not properly prepared by the time they get to school-going age.
The Pre-school Programme identifies under-resourced pre-schools in the areas where baobab harvesters live. The support that is given to the pre-schools is determined by their individual needs.