In South Africa the fruit is eaten fresh and brewed to produce an alternative to traditional sorghum beer. The pip of the fruit is eaten as a snack and the oil extracted while bark and leaves have medicinal uses. The tree and all its products have very strong links to customs and traditional practices. A lot of this was recorded in the "Winners and Losers in Forest Product Commercialisation" project which aimed to improve the benefits derived from this natural resource for the rural poor.
The following is a fascinating extract from a report of this project.
Although young, just 26 years old, this female marula tree is famous in the local area. Her name, “Depu” describes the sound a plank of wood makes when it hits the sand. As the owner Maria Kafula explained, “When you drink the marula wine made from the fruit of this tree, it is so strong you will not be able to walk home, and you will fall down with a big bang; “Depu!”.
“Depu” and her sister tree “Mwanunaldeni” on the same plot in Endola the Ohangwena Region have exceptionally large fruit. These are examples of fruits from highly desirable trees. The trees themselves are small and compact, and produce large quantities of large, sweet, juicy fruit with large kernels; ideal candidates for propagation trials to try and improve marula fruit yields in the marula growing areas of north-central Namibia.
The most succesful product is Amarula Cream - the second biggest selling cream liqueur in the world. Amarula Cream is fermented, distilled and blended at Distell in Stellenbosch near Cape Town using pulp produced by Mirma of Palaborwa in Limpopo Province. The success of this product is hard to grasp - with sales around the world generating in the upper $100s of millions / year while the women who collect the fruit earn a few hundreds of dollars for a month or two each year.
The second product is the oil, which is mainly exported by Phytotrade Africa and has found a niche market in cosmetics, notably with Body Shop. This is a much smaller market with annual sales in the low $millions / year range.
Following this there are new attempts in other food markets such as juice, dried products and jam which are significantly smaller.