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Big Tree brings big hope to many

News - Date: 18 December 2015

Written by: Isabel VenterĀ / Viewed: 6532


Deep in rural Venda grows a forest of “upside down” trees that bears a fruit that brings hope to the people who harvest them.

The baobab has been an important contribution to the Vhavenda’s livelihood for food, fibre and medicine. Under the direction of local entrepreneur Sarah Venter, the harvesting of the baobab’s fruit is changing lives for the better.

EcoProducts, Sarah’s company, have directly played a role in ensuring that the global trade in baobab powder and oil has bettered the lives of the community where she sources her product.

Late in November, the Zoutpansberger had the opportunity to travel to Tshigodini Village to see the impact of global markets for ourselves and film a mini-documentary.

Passing from tar to dirt roads, we first met Mrs Blessing Mambeda at a local hardware shop. She was beaming - this was the day she was going to buy all the supplies she needed to build a new community crèche. The funds were made available by a UK company that visited the region earlier in November, and fell head-over heels in love with the local toddlers Blessing is taking care off. When they heard that the school is in danger of closing down, due to a lease contract that had expired, they donated a substantial amount that was also matched by Sarah.

The money was enough to build a new crèche on communal land, ensuring that Blessing could continue taking care of her toddlers for a good long while still to come.

Zwigodini Crèche will be building their new school during December, and if all goes to plan move into the new premises in January next year.

The crèche, Sarah explained, is the first village school that she identified to help as part of EcoProducts’ Baobab Pre-school Programme. “I began the programme as an initiative which identifies under-resourced pre-schools in the areas where baobab harvesters live,” said Sarah.

With the help of two other Louis Trichardt based NPOs, the Bonga Foundation and the Sumbandila Trust, Blessing was able to complete an early childhood development program. “Now I can work out lessons for my children, and teach them more skills. We also receive healthy food from Sarah,” said Blessing.

Sarah believes that the key to breaking the poverty cycle lies in early childhood development. “Children who do not receive a strong foundation in their early years are found to be stunted academically,” she said.

After the future of the crèche was cemented, Blessing played the guide to visits at the house of the baobab guardians.

The guardian programme is a unique tree-planting project started by Sarah to ensure that baobabs will still be seen in the Vhembe landscape for thousands of years to come.

Vhavenda women are identified as guardians to take care of a baobab seedling at their homes. These guardians do not necessarily have to be harvesters. They receive training on how to take care of their seedling until it reaches one metre in height and is strong enough to be planted. This is stage one, which is completed as soon as the guardian decides where she wants to plant her tree; often in their own back yards.

The guardians look after the trees until they reach three metres and can survive on their own without being damaged by domestic animals and can survive drought. All the trees are evaluated annually and each guardian is rewarded for each centimetre their tree grows.

During the newspaper visit, ten seedlings were ready to be replanted - their GPS coordinates carefully written down and their measurements taken.

A baobab flower. 


One the baobab guardians after being rewarded financially for planting her baobab seedling. Apart from receiving money for ensuring a seedling gets successfully planted, a guardian is also rewarded for every centimetre a tree grows until it reaches three metres.

A baobab guardian with her first seedling that she planted in her back yard.

Sarah Venter, owner of EcoProducts in Louis Trichardt, busy talking to a baobab guardian. The guardians form part of a special tree-groing project that ensures baobabs will live on in Vhembe for many years to come.

Sarah Venter helps a baobab guardian to plant her seedling.

When a baobab seedling reaches the hight of one metre, the guardian decides where she wants to plant it. Usually the tree is planted in their own backyard so they can take care of it.


Isabel Venter

Isabel joined the Zoutpansberger and Limpopo Mirror in 2009 as a reporter. She holds a BA Degree in Communication Sciences from the University of South Africa. Her beat is mainly crime and court reporting.


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