Forget coconut and argan oil, marula oil is now being pitted as one of the ‘go to’ ingredients for beauty products, but what’s changed? Cosmetics retailer, The Body Shop was the first large retailer to launch a cosmetics range in 2002 featuring the oil and by 2012 featured in over 140 of its products. However, customer confidence and it wasn’t until a few well-known women’s magazines caught wind of its miraculous benefits that it became a taking point.
In 2015 it featured in Marie Claire and Cosmopolitan and won CEW’s Eco Beauty Award for its fair trade values. One of its main selling points is that the small, easily absorbed molecules, contain various antioxidants (60% more than argan oil), essential fatty acids and non-comedogenic properties, meaning those who suffer from acne are safe to use the product as it won’t clog their pores.
It’s also hydrates and combats wrinkles, reduces blemishes, promotes healthy nails and frizz free hair! -It seems the list is endless. This seemingly miracle oil comes from the Marula tree found across southern Africa and north- central Namibia. The fruits produced by the trees have many benefits as well as the obvious skin care ones noted above. It’s appeal has also grown due to its sustainability. In fact, a report by Namibia’s National Botanical Research Institute (NBRI) in 2014 found that there were 10 times as many young trees as there were old, in the country.
The trees usually grow on private property and are historically women are employed as the sole protectors of the fruit and its products. Harvesting the marula oil involves picking the ripe fruit from the ground and piercing the skin to expose the stone which will be dried in the sun for a period of months before being cracked open and extracting the kernels. These are then processed into the ever popular marula oil.
The most prevalent producer of marula products is Namibia’s Eudafano Women’s Cooperative (EWC), who in 2013 employed over 2,000 women from 24 associations and produced 11 tonnes of the oil, which was mostly exported to Europe and retailer The Body Shop. The producers pride themselves as a Fair trade retailer and emphasises that it uses less than 1% of Namibia’s and Swaziland’s marula resources. In a 2015 report they stated: “We have created a supply chain involving over 1,300 rural women in 2014 and we target to increase rural women harvesters to 10,000 by 2020.” However, there is another company hot on its heels to produce the oil in a sustainable way.
Leakey Collection, is a business founded by Kenyan farmers, Philip and Katy Leakey who are trying a different approach to harvesting. Instead of allowing the trees to grow naturally, they have added 50,000 marula trees to the current 6,000 growing naturally on their farm and so far it’s been a success. By the end of 2014 they produced 6,000 litres of oil, employed around 800 workers – mostly female and have hopes of eventually employing up to 10,000 workers on their land.
However the NBRI (Namibia’s National Botanical Research Institute) warns of a possible supply and demand issue due to pricing pressures. They stated: “This could represent a threat (and perhaps a new but very challenging opportunity) to community-based producers and processors such as Eudafano, who are basing their marula oil business on quality, ethical trade, community benefits and respect for the heritage represented by the marula culture.” But producers are yet to touch upon the various other uses of the marula fruit which includes; cooking oil and Amarula liqueur, meaning the future may not be as bleak as predicted. It also appears as if Marula Beauty Oil has no concerns, as they are expanding their exports beyond Europe and launching products in six countries across Asia.