Atacora is a direct producer of Baobab Superfruit Powder and Baobab Oil based in northern Benin, West Africa. The Atacora region is a tough place. Mountainous and remote, the region does not cater to easy movement due to poor, or a total lack of infrastructure. The resident Otammari people are proud and fiercely independent, but kind and welcoming. The abundant natural resources and the ambition of the people would indicate an economic vitality, but, alas, poverty’s grip is tenacious. We aim to promote the change of that situation.
Baobab, the “Tree of Life”, is a rich and sustainable resource with allot of potential to improve people’s lives while protecting thefragile environment. It is the focus of Atacora’s Fair Partnership endeavor. This novel business model is based on the principles of Fair Trade, but goes beyond; promoting people’s ownership of their futures based on revalued resources and nurturing women as principal economic actors. Making this all work in the local and global marketplace is a complicated task, requiring cultural fluency and business savvy.
We realized that in order to compete in the global natural products marketplace, organic certification lends a competitive edge.
Setting up an organic production system requires a high level of organization and trained personnel. The greater challenge lies in winning the will and support of the rural producers of the Baobab fruit from which our products emanate…not to mention educating consumers on the formidable virtues of the products.
In 2013, after three years of hard work establishing production norms and added value, the market appears wide open for Baobab. The interest we have generated is exciting and daunting at the same time; and offers an enormous opportunity for thepeople of the Atacora region to improve their socio-economic condition. With that in mind, our present challenge is to boost production to meet demand, and to make sure the products are perfect, with the proper pedigree.
To this end, Atacora CEO David Goldman is now in Benin to supervise the certification process and bring the producers around to supply the maximum to everyone’s advantage.
Buying and selling whole Baobab fruit is an entirely new idea in the area. Traditionally, the trees belong to the men, and the transformation of the fruit into powder and seeds, and the marketing thereof, is the domain of the women. In order to gain the fidelity of the producers, we have to make sure that all members of the households see their relations with Atacora as beneficial. We are establishing a contractual protocol to ensure the win-win situation we all want, and that Atacora absolutely needs to be sustainable and profitable. As members of this community, as opposed to an outside agency coming to do business, we need to maintain impeccable integrity and mutual respect in order to perpetuate our mission.
Some producers have shown reticence to fully engage with Atacora. Some of our relay agents (village point-people) have inflated their supply documents in order to make more money on their percentage scale, rather than try to actually bring in more raw material. Tomorrow, we are inviting all the relays for a training and exchange session at our office in Boukombé, to revisit the mission, structure and operation of our production system, discuss the previous year’s operations, redefine goals, and generally adjust our methods to improved results and achieve better and greater satisfaction for all. David will be leading the session, supported by Executive Director Jacob Ghanaba and President Antoine Wema. These three have known each other for 21 years, and co-created Atacora’s Fair Partnership model as a market-based development initiative in order to bring prosperity and advance the women of their community. Another important development at Atacora is the potential engagement of Clémence Dafonna as Assistant Director of Field Operations. We have been looking for a qualified women to be a part of the Direction at Atacora since the beginning, and due to the neglect of girls’ education in the past, such a person has been very hard to come by. This is yet another step forward in Fair Partnership! Look for more news on this front soon.