Allanblackia in Tanzania: Earning extra income while conserving one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots
“I grew up in a rural area and was interested in farming since I was a kid. The agricultural officer would visit me in my garden and help me learn how to manage my vegetables. That developed my passion for crops and so I later studied agriculture and business management” explains Fidelis Rutatina, the owner of Novel Development, a UEBT member company in Tanzania that is producing 240 tons of Allanblackia each year for the market. (Read the full interview here).
Used as a plant-based fat in foods such as margarine, Allanblackia oil comes from the seeds of a native, evergreen tree that grows in the tropical cloud forests of Tanzania, specifically in the Usambara and Nguru Mountains, part of the Eastern Arc in the northeastern part of the country, as well as in other parts of Africa. The Usambara Mountains are one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots and boast several species of plants and birds found nowhere else in the world, such as the Usambara Eagle-Owl. “The area is mostly conserved but some forests out of the reserve are cleared due to the need for agricultural expansion. Allanblackia is one of the trees that, if sustainably managed, can add significant income to a household,” says Rutatina. The region where the trees grow has income challenges, so additional income from honey, fruits or oils, and now Allanblackia, that can be added to regular agroforestry crops such as spices, makes a huge difference for people’s livelihoods.
Rutatina’s company, along with other local and international partners, has been working for several years to build a successful Allanblackia supply chain, including training women and men on how to collect and care for the trees, conducting some of the first research on the tree itself and its patterns of growth and pollination, and establishing linkages to the market.
Allanblackia oil is unique in that it is the only plant-based oil that is solid when at room temperature with a minimal temperature gap between its solid and liquid states hence what is called in the industry a ‘sharp oral melting curve.’ The oil also has a unique free fatty acid composition. These structural properties make it easy to use in margarine without further modifying the ingredient. Its large brown fruits easily fall to the ground once mature, and farmers remove the seeds for drying. Novel Development Tanzania has been focused on ensuring equal collection participation from both men and women, with strict rules of no child labour. The awareness created is catalysing biodiversity conservation since conserved and planted trees are yielding economic benefits.
Novel began working with UEBT in 2011 after hearing a presentation from UEBT staff in a meeting. Rutatina says, “UEBT principles are helping us grow. Some we already were doing, but through the assessment we were able to shape this to be systematic. It has given us confidence on the ground. And having our Allanblackia certified by UEBT now adds value to what we are doing.”
Today, margarine made with Allanblackia oil can be found in France and Sweden, under popular brands such as Fruit D’Or.
Challenges still remain but the successes are growing each year. While the harvest of Allanblackia seeds is increasing, it is still not keeping up with demand. Novel has established seedling nurseries, and villagers have planted 100,000 new trees, while also caring for the ones from natural regeneration in the forest areas. Rutatina expects oilseed volume to increase, allowing for more income while conserving forestland. “We are continuing our campaign to conserve existing trees, and also encouraging farmers to grow young trees in and around their shaded farms, and not to cut them. This is our vision for the future.”
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