On the Baobab Trail in Benin - January 2012
I thought I'd do kind of a fun update on my activities during my recent visit to Benin during Baobab production season. I had a bunch of activities planned, as did my team, so it was a busy time, as always, but I definitely got to enjoy the many things I love about West Africa, as well!
WEST AFRICA TRADE HUB
I flew into Accra, Ghana, and tried to shake off my fatigue and jet lag the first night. The next morning, I walked over to the Trade Hub office to begin collaborating with this cool organization. They are a USAID funded group promoting African producers to export to the US and Europe. I met with Roger Brou, the Business and Finance to present Atacora Essential and discuss avenues of collaboration. They offer finance, business education, logistical support, marketing help and more! He really seemed to appreciate our products and mission, and thinks Baobab Fruit Pulp and Baobab Oil have awesome potential! We've made many contacts in the Ghanain natural products industry as well as the US market as a result.
Our Beninese Executive Director, Jacob Ghanaba, met me in Lome, Togo, and we spent the evening planning the next couple of weeks in detail, and of course, eating some yummy African food! We continued on to Cotonou (Benin's commercial capitol) the next morning. Wow! That city is on the move! Overpasses and all manner of new infrastructure are popping up everywhere.
Atacora Essential has a great relationship with Peace Corps Benin (we're on our 3rd consecutive volunteer assigned to our company), so we met with Associate Director Yves Todonou to support that collaboration. I've been friends with him for 20 years, so we went out and had some food and fun as well! The volunteers have always been extraordinarily helpful to us, and we are grateful.
FAIR PARTNERSHIP AND THE LOCAL MARKET
We've come to realize that there is an emerging market in West Africa for our Baobab and Neem products among the growing urban middle class. Fair Trade is a wonderful thing, and I've learned that it can be more wonderful in the form of our new model: Fair Partnership. The Atacora team in Benin has profit incentive to design and implement local market initiatives. So, we met with representitives of packaging and labeling companies to begin to create our brand of effective, clean and tested products that are attractive in boutiques.
BACK HOME IN BOUKOMBE!
I definitely feel more at home in Boukombe (in the countries northwestern Atacora Province) than I do in Washington State! I spent a day doing the pleasant and necessary salutations. I visted the new Mayor and other notable local figures, as well as lots of families I've known for many years. This usually involves indulging in the favorite local sorghum beer, tchoukoutou, and some tasty home cooked food!
Over the next 10 days, we visited many of our villages that supply us with Baobab Fruit and Neem Seeds. We talked alot about our need for organic certification, and the protocol that our suppliers need to follow to make this happen.
We like to reinvest in communities as part of Fair Partnership, and we target our most adamant suppliers. We were received like honored guests in Koukouentiegou, where we presented them with some start-up funds for a new classroom! We are also helping them with financial management skills. We visited lots of other villages as well.
We also went to Natitingou and Tanguieta to visit the hospitals where we donated some medical equipment. We are very proud to support the Atacora region's communities! Near Tanguieta is the small town of Kobli, a really cool spot! We aquired about 10 acres there with cashew trees on it where we intend to plant lots of Moringa trees and red hibiscus (bissap). Sweet!
While in Boukombe, I got to spend some quality time with my sweetheart, Clemence! She just got her Masters degree at the University of Benin, and is smart, easy-going, helpful, cool and beautiful all at the same time. I think I might have to move there.
COTONOU TO ACCRA
We met with the distinguished head of the Beninese Supreme Court, Mr. Azanai in Cotonou. He is an extremely influential man in Beninese politics and government and is a former and future Minister. He loves our mission and has vowed to help us however he can...even helping me get Beninese nationality! Back in Accra, I met again with the Trade Hub folks, ate some fine Red Red (fried fish, beans with red palm oil and fried plantain) YUM! Every time I go back to Africa, I hate leaving more and more :o(>
We also started a new women's co-op for Timuti Bracelets!