The use of a plant is, like that of any other product, governed by custom, need and availability. Thus, the indigenous population of Gabon made little use of the baobab, which had been introduced, because they were unfamiliar with its qualities (Walker 1953). The choice of what is used reflects the quantity and seasonal availability, the economics in monetary or non-monetary terms, and the relative advantages and disadvantages of the available alternatives. The baobabs are no exception to this law of supply and demand. Thus, because of its relative rarity the baobab is little exploited in Dhofar, Oman (Miller and Morris 1988), while in Madagascar, despite their relative abundance, the baobabs have fewer uses than the baobabs in Africa and Australia.

In order to understand these regional differences it is necessary to consider the cultural development of a nation before the influence of European culture. In Africa the baobab is widespread through the savannas and semi-arid regions. The range of uses and demands on the baobab increases towards the semi-arid regions of the Sahel and Kalahari because there are relatively few alternatives available.

The first inhabitants of Madagascar are believed to have arrived from Indonesia in the 2nd century BC (Straka 1996), although some writers claim that they did not come until AD 300–800. It was then a fertile and well-vegetated country, agriculture was productive and the people relatively sophisticated. The relative abundance of natural resources meant that the baobabs were not a vital resource, and this is suggested as the reason for the relatively little use made of them. The eight species of Adansonia are sufficiently similar for the Madagascar species to have all or most of the same potential uses as A. digitata and A. gregorii, had there been a need.


Bast Fibre Outer Bark Limpopo Province Flush Toilet Baobab Tree 
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© Springer Science + Business Media, B.V 2008

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