Range of !Nara
The !Nara fruit, also known as !Nara melon, grows in the coastal region of the Namib Desert in Namibia. It grows where underground water is available and populates shifting dunes. At Sandfontein, east of Walvis Bay, advancing dunes have driven the Kuiseb River underground - ideal conditions for the growth of the !Naras.
In the Kuiseb district
Fossil evidence suggests that !Nara already existed about 40 million years ago. The !Nara fruit was probably already used as a foodstuff in the Stone Age and was probably the only reason why the desert tribes survived until today in their habitat, also under the predominantly inhospitable conditions of the desert climate.
The Nara plant is a 0.5 to 1.0 m tall, densely intergrown, perennial, leafless shrub that can live to over 100 years old. The 2-3 cm long, straight, sharp, pairs of spines grow on lengthwise grooved stems of up to 1 m in length. Spines, stems and flowers are all photosynthetic and green. The thick, woody pile roots can grow up to 40 m in length to reach the groundwater.
Historically the fruit is the staple diet of the inhabitants of the Namib and for months it has been almost their only food food source. This is especially true for the Topnaar, which still live almost exclusively from the Naras a considerable part of the year. This is why the whole fruit is processed into a a variety of products. The seeds and the pulp are dried and can be stored without spoiling and are edible for many months.
The blossoms have a diameter of 3 cm and stand alone. Male blossoms are produced all year round. Male and female plants, which produce blossoms from August to April, grow individually. Only the female blossoms develop into a melon, initially green and orange-yellow after ripening, with a diameter of 15 cm and covered with small spikes. Approximately 250 cream-coloured oil seeds are embedded in an orange-yellow protein-rich pulp inside the fruit.
The Topnaar, shepherds and collectors living in the lower Kuiseb Valley, move seasonally on their donkey carts to the !Nara "fields" between the dunes to harvest the valuable !Nara fruits. The fruit flesh is fresh and dried a valuable food source for humans and animals. The seeds are sold and provide an important source of income for about 300 Topnaar, who live along the dry riverbed and earn their livelihood with the small animal husbandry and the !Nara harvest.
Digging in the fruits
Harvest time is from January to April, sometimes there is a second harvest from November to December. Harvesting the !Nara fruit is a very time-consuming and labour-intensive process. The harvested fruits are buried in the sand for a few days to mature and only then processed further. An average of 10 to 20 fruits are needed to collect one kilogram of seeds.
The opened !Nara fruit
The hand-picked fruits are cut in half and the flesh is scraped into large barrels. The shells are fed to the donkeys. Flesh-filled barrels are heated over a faintly burning fire, stirring constantly to slowly separate the seeds from the liquid pulp.
Cooking the pilp
On an open fire the pulp is then reduced to half its volume, eaten with porridge or dried in the sun.
waiting for the buyer
During annual meetings with harvest groups and the designated Topnaar dealer they respectfully negotiate prices, harvesting conditions and seed preparation techniques and determine them in favour of harvest groups. In order to safeguard the !Nara for future generations, Desert Hills exchanges harvest information with the TTA (Topnaar Traditional Authority) and encourages the harvesters to participate in plant monitoring to protect the plant.
The new harvest centre, built in 2017, will be opened for the harvest season in October 2017. While the harvest is mostly carried out by the men of the tribe, the processing of the fruit pulp and the seeds is primarily the responsibility of the women.
The Ministry of the Environment and the Gobabeb Training & Research Centre explore the ecological properties of this highly dynamic desert plant and advise the Topnaar on the basis of their new findings and monitor the harvest. In addition, the area on which the fruits are actively harvested is only a fraction of the plants’ distribution area. Most of the !Nara plants grow in protected national parks and are therefore not harvested.
Drying the seeds
Our partner Desert Hills dries and sorts the seeds to ensure that only high quality, uncovered seeds are processed to ensure a good quality of the final product. The enriching processes include the cold pressing of fine natural oil, which is used in our natural cosmetic products and is also used as consumable oil. The seed cake residues from the oil pressing process are used as nutrient-rich animal feed.
Solar powered oil house
Desert Hills is convinced that electricity from conventional energy sources is almost entirely dispensed with in the entire oil production process and in everyday life. The oil mill is even operated exclusively with electricity from the ecologically sustainable solar energy, which is generated from the building's own solar collectors on the roof. We attach great importance to resource-conserving and sustainable production and are constantly working to further improve and optimise this in other areas as well.
Before pressing, all seeds are carefully sorted by hand, because only flawless seeds of the highest quality are used for the production of the Nara oil. Laboratory tests have confirmed that the 100% pure, cold-pressed Desert Hills Nara oil has a very high content of Omega-6 fatty acids and vitamins. These fatty acid and vitamin combinations are very beneficial for dry and irritated skin.
The !Nara oil is cold pressed in an elaborate manual process in small, patented screw presses, without the use of solvents, chemicals or other additives. A lot of manual work is involved in the preparation, sorting, filtration and bottling - a genuine manufactory in which the oil mill itself is operated exclusively with solar power.
Manufacturing and bottling
!Nara Cosmetics is manufactured in a factory that also produces pharmaceuticals. The production facilities with state-of-the-art technology ensure consistent quality. Of course, European production and hygiene standards are adhered to.
Labelling and packaging
Labels are glued, boxes are folded and packed by hand. The secure and regular income that women receive locally for their work also helps to stabilise the standard of living of their families