The tasty marula fruit has a high vitamin C content and is much loved by elephants. [iStock by Getty Images]

The Marula Festival has become a popular annual event. When the 15th annual Marula Festival comes around in 2020, there will be additional reasons to celebrate, as that is the anticipated launch date of the Marula Industrial Hub.

The Marula Festival attracts more than 30 000 people over two weekends in February and serves to highlight the marula fruit and its uses. At the moment, these are mostly confined to making traditional beer and supplying the raw product for the manufacture of the famous Amarula Cream Liqueur. Outgrowers, mostly small-scale women farmers, supply Distell with the fruit.

The theme for the festival for the next few years will be “Discover the Wealth of Marula”, in line with the idea of expanding the fruit’s usefulness. But the festival itself is not just about beer – although there is a lot of beer! The 2018 festival programme included a marathon, a career expo, a dance challenge, performances of gospel and jazz bands, a golf day and a trade exhibition. The economic benefit to the local economies of Ba-Phalaborwa and the Mopani District economies is about R45-million annually.

The Marula Industrial Hub

The Marula Industrial Hub will provide a platform to further exploit the tasty marula fruit, which has a high vitamin C content and is much loved by elephants. The Limpopo Department of Economic Development and Tourism (LEDET) wants to see the University of Limpopo doing more research on the possible uses for the fruit, including jams and cosmetics.

Facilities at the hub will include a centre for research and processing facilities to create more value from the raw product. Advisors will be available to help small-scale farmers and SMMEs enter the formal economy.

The marula tree is a protected species and is protected by environmental laws. The tree and its fruit are also part of the cultural heritage of the region. The Festival of The First Fruit, “Ku LumaNguva/Go Loma Morula”, is a ceremony performed by traditional leaders at the marula season’s beginning. Only at the conclusion of the ceremony can drinking begin.

The Marula initiative is consistent with the broader agricultural sector plans for Limpopo.

The provincial government has identified five Agricultural Development Zones (ADZs) across the province, including the Mopani District within which the Marula Industrial Hub is located. Programmes to increase productivity have been presented to small-scale farmers. In the year 2017/18 more than 50 000 small-scale producers received support in the form of irrigation infrastructure, livestock infrastructure and other production inputs.

More insight into the economy of Limpopo Province: