My primary activity today was to write a very detailed report about the training we did yesterday. Not only does Ecocert want to see that we are making every effort to bring our Baobab producers and personnel up to a higher level of capacity and understanding, but I want the Atacora staff to see that it is the substance of their work and reporting; not adherence to a broken (French) system of mere attendance and formalities that is the heart of the matter and the essence of their jobs.
Seriously I must ask if the French educational system, a relic of colonialism, is not one of the primary restraints to sustainable development here. It creates generations of people with outdated knowledge and limited capacity to function in this new century. Clearly it also has produced a kleptocratic political class which imitates its colonial masters, choosing their own power, wealth and status over encouraging progress. Pity the forward-thinking entrepreneur (i.e. us at Atacora) who needs structural support and encouragement in order to bring about self-generated prosperity for a better future for the nation and its people.
This political class and its lack of commitment to real progress causes people to not dare believe in their own abilities and hard work, and look to the neo-colonial world of externally conceived and funded aid projects to address the society’s problems, rather than to their own resources, both natural and human. Sad, really.
Today was mostly a travel day, as Jacob and I are headed to a meeting with some forward-thinking entrepreneurs in Parakou, about a 6 hour drive from Boukombé. We met with the office in charge of civil society organizations for the Atacora region in Natitingou before continuing. Our paperwork for fully concretizing our NGO has been in limbo for 2 years. It’s supposed to take a month. Excuses and false promises, again. We’re going to the national office in a couple of days to see if our portfolio even exists at their level. We are thinking that the guys in Natitingou simply chowed our money and took it no further. Like I said, people are discouraged from even trying progressive ideas.
Jacob and I met with Daniel, our Belgian colleague who makes great, natural soaps, lotions and medicines for the local market here in Parakou, and he introduced us to a young Beninese guy, Thomas, who is a total rock-star entrepreneur and has the best ideas I’ve encountered in a very long time.
He makes lots of value-added natural products in the Collines region, works in the sustainable energy field, and, for our present needs, is a formidable designer and fabricator of machinery for natural products transformation.
Our problem is how to de-shell the Baobab seeds for pressing. The one-at-a-time, by-hand method is not working for us. Also, certified organic seeds must be worked under tight supervision and control, with exhaustive documentation. We’re helping him design a hand-powered, simple machine to facilitate the task for us. These two guys are collaborators, and innovative actors to be reckoned with, and with whom to definitely cultivate lasting relationships. Much more optimistic today! On to Cotonou tomorrow!