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Sakoa Project 

The Fundamentals

The Sakoa Project is emblematic of The Phoenix Conservancy's strategy to use ecologically and economically valuable species to support local communities through restoration. Named after Madagascar's Sakoa trees, known globally as Marula, this project leverages a widespread, native species to rebuild forest and improve livelihoods by enabling local production and international distribution of Sakoa oil.

The Phoenix Conservancy is providing microfinance loans to communities to extract Sakoa oil, the sales of which will produce direct income for families while incentivizing and funding further restoration. Rich in protein and antioxidants, Sakoa (a.k.a. Marula) oil is renowned for its anti-aging qualities, making it a valuable component in many cosmetic, skincare, and haircare products.


Want the raw stuff? We'll have some soon.


A Sakoa tree stands in the grassland below Ivohiboro Forest, Madagascar.

Sakoa (Sclerocarya birrea)

Native to Madagascar and much of southern Africa, Sakoa trees are drought tolerant, fire resistant, and grow quickly, making them a key species in our Foxhole Forest restoration strategy. Sakoa trees can rapidly develop a protective canopy that lowers temperatures and increases water retention in their understories, allowing other forest species to survive and grow in the otherwise inhospitable conditions of open grassland.

Sakoa fruits are most analogous to small mangos; a thin, fleshy exterior surrounds a woody nut that contains oil-rich seed kernels. A single, mature tree produces 1,100 pounds of fruit each year, providing an abundant yet scarcely utilized resource in a region with an average annual income of just $50 for entire families.


A young Sakoa tree grows in a Foxhole Forest.


Dire economic conditions are the root of Madagascar’s ecological degradation, inhibiting the restoration activities necessary to buffer the country from and adapt to climate change. Without economic systems that incentivize restoration, Madagascar’s already precarious state will devolve into catastrophe.

Sakoa trees offer an opportunity to transition grassland to forest while providing a self-perpetuating system that ensures long-term restoration and socioeconomic development.


A person enters living quarters in the evening at the base of Ivohiboro.

A Sakoa tree stands in the grassland below Ivohiboro Forest, Madagascar.


A small vial of raw Sakoa oil produced with our initial press design.

The Product

Sakoa oil has various traditional and commercial applications. The oil is traditionally used as a meat preservative due to its stability, which also makes it an effective component of medicinal, cosmetics, and skincare products, as well as cooking oil. Sakoa oil is also purported to have anti-aging benefits, particularly in combating stretch marks, due to its high protein content. Surprisingly, the oil even has applications in biodiesel production as a sunflower oil substitute due to high concentrations of mono-unsaturated oleic acid. Though currently outside the scope of the project, other components of Sakoa fruit have wide applicability in commercial uses, such as food, juices, alcoholic beverages, and jams. What's more, the waste material from the woody pits may be charcoalized to replace timber-based charcoals typically used to cook food and heat homes.

The Process

Supporting communities through restoration



We will provide microfinance loans in the form of Sakoa oil presses to communities around Ivohiboro. These loans will be repaid with the oil produced by the presses, not money.


Community Income

We will buy Sakoa oil directly from communities at a reduced price until the microfinance loan is repaid. We will then sell the oil to cosmetic, skincare, and hair companies, as well as individuals.



Once our sales of Sakoa oil equal the costs to produce a press, we will purchase more oil at its full value from communities. We will also provide an additional oil press to grow the program further.



Net revenue generated by sales to businesses and individuals will fund further restoration activities, particularly through local job creation. In this way, communities are incentivized to continue restoration through our initiatives and on their own.


Extracting oil-rich Sakoa seed kernels from their woody pits.

Our Goals

  • Incentivize further planting of Sakoa trees.

  • Disincentivize cutting down and delimbing Sakoa trees for charcoal production.

  • Connect local communities to global markets.

  • Establish a self-perpetuating, restoration-based economic engine.

  • Improve local livelihoods through direct income and restoration job creation.

  • Tie the Sakoa project to our other social enterprise programs to develop a holistic model for restoration throughout Madagascar.

  • Transfer management of the project to communities within 20 years.

2023_09_15_Photo 11_Lahy.jpg

Lahy, one of thousands of community members we have hired, says she and her family were able to survive famine thanks to the income provided by restoration-based jobs.


How To Help

Donations go a long way in Madagascar, so please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to support our efforts. You can also visit our Wishlist to provide allocated funding for specific items we need, or you can purchase merchandise from our store.


We're bringing Sakoa oil to U.S. markets soon, so subscribe to our newsletter (below) and follow us on social media to find out when you can buy some oil from Ivohiboro yourself!

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Our progress on the Sakoa Project is entirely due to the generous financial support of the Stockel Family Foundation, the Brabson Family Foundation, the Rufford Foundation, the New Earth Foundation, the Butler Family Foundation, and numerous individual donors. To everyone who has contributed to our efforts, thank you!



"A Pullman-based conservation organization is helping preserve habitat for a rare-yet-pungent Madagascar spice"

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