Ksh 300K a Piece: Inside Lucrative Baobab Trees Business Stopped by Ruto

Baobab trees at the coast and one uprooted ready to be exported outside the country.
Baobab trees at the coast and one uprooted, ready to be exported outside the country.
Nature Ke, NMG

President William Ruto's administration, on Monday, November 21, placed an embargo on the exportation of baobab trees to the US.

The cancellation of the exportation license resulted from a court order that branded the process unprocedural.

Before the directive, the baobab exporting business had started gaining prominence, especially in Kilifi County, despite protests from conservationists.

Reports indicated that US firms and other multinational companies were willing to splash up to Ksh300,000 to buy each mature tree before airlifting them to their respective countries.

A baobab tree in Mnarani, Kilifi County.
A baobab tree in Mnarani, Kilifi County.

A report by the Guardian, a UK media publication, on October 24 indicated that US investors used drones to monitor Kilifi to identify trees that met their standards.

"They say they were searching for baobabs meeting their specifications – which included untarnished trunks – with offers ranging from 100,000 to 300,000 Kenyan shillings (£730-£2,200)," the outlet reported.

Farmers were willing to fell the baobab trees to pave the way for crop production in an effort to tackle acute food shortage in the region.

With baobab trees' life span estimated at 2,500 years, international companies have turned it into a lucrative multi-billion venture. Some airlift the plants with their roots for transplanting.

Why Baobab Demand is High

Baobab is a multi-purpose tree; its fruit pulp, seeds, leaves, flowers, roots and bark are used locally for human consumption.

Also, several health benefits have been associated with baobab powder extracted from mature trees. In Europe, US and Asia, baobab powder is commonly marketed as food supplement.

Baobab powder increases energy levels, supports immune health and improves digestive and general health.

Baobab powder accounted for about 2 per cent of the total imports of fruit powder in 2020, according to data released by the Center for the Promotion of Imports from Developing Countries, an agency of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands.

In addition to baobab powder, there is demand for other baobab ingredients, such as baobab oil, which is used in the cosmetics industry. 

Other companies use baobab to manufacture antioxidants and animal products whose market value is high compared to other products.

Increased scientific research has also contributed to the increased demand for the tree, which takes up to 26 years to mature. 

However, environmental activists have continued to raise the alarm over exporting baobab trees from the Coast. 

According to their argument, continued uprooting of the trees may result in extinction, thus affecting the general ecosystem.

A collage image of a cut (left) and uncut(right) Baobab tree in Kilifi County.
A collage image of a cut (left) and uncut(right) Baobab tree in Kilifi County.
The Guardian