The Namibia bio-trade initiative increases the value of biodiversity-derived products

Sustainable Leaders | Ondangwa, Namibia


By Julia Riopelle, Co-Editor-in-Chief

Published July 12th, 2021

Under the guidance of the BioTrade Initiative, the Eudafano Women’s Cooperative, a community organization in Namibia, has provided a secure economic income for 2500 women and their indigenous communities.


In 1996, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) launched its BioTrade Initiative, which emphasizes the sustainable extraction, production and trade of biodiverse resources, and has established a network of partners and small business in over 80 countries since.


Women harvesting oil from Marula seeds. Please note: these women are in South Africa, but carry out the same work as the Ondangwa women in Namibia. | Sheona Shackleton / CIFOR.

The Eudafano Women’s Cooperative, based in Ondangwa Namibia, is supported by the Namibian Government and the Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), in order to successfully grow their business in line with the BioTrade Initiative Principles and Criteria. The 2500 women currently employed at Eudafano Women’s Cooperative are sustainably harvesting and processing Marula seeds and Kalahari melon oil seeds.


Marula is a tree that is native to Southern Africa and Madagascar. Due to its oil’s linoleic fatty acid and oleic acid content, as well as its antioxidant properties, it is extremely beneficial to nourishing healthy human skin. Additionally, marula oils can preserve meat, and be added to popular foods and drinks.


‘Not only is this a sustainable business, it is entirely made up of and led by indigenous and local women.’


The Eudafano Women’s Cooperative grows Marula and Kalahari melon trees, which are sustained via rainfall and regenerative agriculture. The trees are planted in such a way which conserves local biodiversity, rather than degrading it to create major plantations—as seen in palm oil production. The company sells their oils to both domestic and international businesses for cosmetic use, their largest client currently including the international giant, The Body Shop.


The Ondangwa women produce up to 12 tons of Marula oil annually, generating a revenue of $158,000 in 2020—which is a 14% increase from the previous year. Not only is this a sustainable business, it is entirely made up of and led by indigenous and local women.


The growth of their business has been increasing each year; its success being attributed to their reliance on their employees’ knowledge about their local environment and their long-established practices that prevent overexploitation of natural resources.


Fallen Marula fruit (Sclerocarya birrea). | Bernard Dupont / Flickr

What is the BioTrade Initiative?


The BioTrade Initiative aims to provide a framework which places biodiversity as the central natural capital in a green economy model. It promotes a sustainable strategy for the extraction, trade and use of bio-diversity derived products, which is in line with the objectives set out by the Convention on Biological Diversity.


The BioTrade Initiative framework uses three approaches to carry out their objectives: (1) The ecosystems approach, (2) the adaptive management approach and (3) the value chain approach. The ecosystem-based approach manages the sustainable use of ecosystems by placing protective policies on the ecosystem as a whole, as opposed to a species-based conservation approach. Ecosystems are deeply interconnected, thus it is vital to keep a balance between all organisms, to ensure its health and resilience, as well as the local communities which rely on it.


‘A framework which places biodiversity as the central natural capital in a green economy model.’


The adaptive management approach is the use of guidelines that have been set out by scientific research and data collection, which identifies and measures the impact of certain practices on the local environment. Putting scientific findings into practice, allows one to design ways to either reduce negative environmental impacts or mitigate them.


Finally, the value chain approach seeks to strengthen and increase the transparency of value chains of biodiversity-derived products. This involves equal sharing the environmental, social and economic benefits of the end product amongst all who were involved in the entire production process.


Marula oil-based products. | Sheona Shackleton / CIFOR

Transparency of companies is key to marketing their social corporate responsibility and thus expanding a sustainable business. BioTrade companies or partner websites need accounts of who is involved in the creation of their product, the quality of their employees’ work environment and the equitable share they receive from any economic benefits. Companies should also explain in detail the sustainable methods used to create their products and prove these are backed by scientific evidence.


The BioTrade Initiative works by approaching companies or people groups and offering them to sell goods and services (ie., textiles, handicrafts, cosmetics, phytopharmaceuticals and ecotourism), which have been produced in an environmentally and human-friendly way. Over time, the goal is for these companies to then shift the majority of their investments to solely BioTrade products.


‘Transparency of companies is key to marketing their social corporate responsibility.’


Currently the Namibian economy largely generates its revenue from mineral exports—heavily extracting and processing diamond and uranium—which accounts for 10% of the country’s GDP. Mining uranium, no matter how the extraction is carried out, creates radioactive waste which can contaminate the surrounding environment.


However, Biotrade currently contributes to 4.5% of Namibia’s GDP, and is projected to grow to 7% within the next decade. BioTrade in Namibia is a significant stepping-stone to transforming the country into a green economy, as it involves markets such as indigenous natural products, sustainable wildlife, livestock breeding, aquaculture, timber forest products and the agricultural harvesting of indigenous crops by indigenous people. As such, a green economy offers economic development and improved livelihoods for poorer, marginalized communities.


Open pit of the Rio Tinto Rössing uranium mine, Namibia. | jbdodane.com / www.jbdodane.com

Potential market growth


Namibia can continue to expand their Biotrade initiatives by setting up similar projects to that of the Eudafano Women’s Cooperative. Other products which have the potential to expand their markets are Devil’s Claw and Kalahari Moth Silk.


Devil’s Claw has already provided stable jobs to communities in Zambia, using the BioTrade framework. As this plant is found in the dry climate of the Kalahari Desert, it has potential to generate income for communities in Zimbabwe, South Africa, Mozambique, Botswana and Angola as well.


‘BioTrade incorporates marginalized communities into the market economy.’


Devil’s Claw is a plant which has analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties, thus its extract can be sold as a phytopharmaceutical product. Small plantations of Devil’s Claw can be grown near rural communities where the harvesters live. The plant tubers must be carefully extracted each spring, in order for the top-roots to remain in good condition, as it is from these that the plant will regenerate.


The UNEP states that, ‘the move towards a green economy seeks to develop and capitalize on those resources available to the poorest segments of the population, incorporating marginalized communities into the market economy and ensuring that they receive a fair share of the benefits derived from the productive activities in which they engage.’


Featured Image: Eudafano Women’s Cooperative

Biotrade Initiative (2007) UNCTAD BioTrade Initiative Principles and Criteria. United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.

Lombard C. and Beckett K. (2012) Devil’s Claw value chain analysis—Final report. Phytotrade Africa. Millennium Challenge Account Namibia.

United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (2021) ‘Women in rural Namibia profit from biodiversity-friendly trade.’ United Nations. Available at: https://unctad.org/news/women-rural-namibia-profit-biodiversity-friendly-trade [Accessed 10 July 2021]

United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (2021) ‘BioTrade for business.’ United Nations. Available at: https://unctad.org/topic/trade-and-environment/biotrade/business [Accessed 10 July 2021]

UNEP (2012) Green Economy Sectoral Study: BioTrade, a catalyst for transitioning to a green economy in Namibia. United Nations.



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