Wednesday, June 24, 2009

PhytoTrade Africa Response

As a representative from the African trade association (PhytoTrade Africa) that is promoting the sale of baobab within the EU, I'd just like to clear up some of the misconceptions about the possible threats to baobab.

Firstly, I can categorically state that the African baobab (Adansonia digitata, distinct from any of the Madagascar baobabs) is not an endangered species. A quick look at the IUCN Red List of endangered species will confirm this. It is, in fact, very abundant across much of the continent. International trade in endangered species is regulated by a whole raft of legislation (e.g. CITES), and there is little chance of any endangered species making it on to supermarket shelves any time soon.

That said, it is certainly true that baobab distribution has shrunk across Africa over the last century. As the human population expands, indigenous vegetation is cleared to make way for agricultural production (something that has happened the world over). In Africa this has often had disastrous results, with the indigenous vegetation being replaced by arable cash crops that often fare rather poorly in our dry and infertile soils. The result is bad news for people and environment alike, and baobab trees have suffered as much as any other species (although they are still plentiful).

The question is whether commercialising baobab fruit will reverse or exacerbate this trend. We're confident it will reverse this trend. Giving baobab fruit a cash value creates an incentive for rural people to preserve and protect baobab trees. Just as apple and orange trees are not endangered by our love of their fruit, we don't expect baobab trees to be threatened by our love of their fruit either. In fact we think it will result in an increase in the baobab population over the long term. This has already happened with many other indigenous plant species that have been commercialised, and there is no reason to believe it won't happen with baobab either.

I'm very happy to provide much more detailed evidence of this to anyone who still has worries. It is a complex issue, and as Susan points out, you can get conflicting views from the net. But ultimately, we're absolutely certain that your purchase of a baobab fruit product will contribute both to bettering the lives of rural African producers and to the long term sustainability of the baobab tree in Africa.

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