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Buying Baobab Fruit resized 600
Atacora Essential is among the first purveyors of Baobab products in the US, and we are very unique among the few that exist.  We are the direct producers of these products, not middlemen.  I’ve had a direct relationship with the members of our producer co-op in Kouporgou, Benin for nearly 20 years, and I’ve known many of the villagers who provide us with raw materials for as long.  Atacora Essential is an integral member of the community, providing jobs, supporting community enhancement projects and helping the local economy through Fair Trade.  Now I’ll explain our supply chain and transformation process to clarify this:Before Atacora Essential started its first Baobab campaign in 2010, our field study showed that the owners of the Baobab trees would harvest the dry fruit themselves, and the women of the family would perform the transformation work to produce the powdered fruit pulp and the shelled seeds.  A quantity of these products was retained for domestic consumption, and the rest was hauled on the women’s heads to local markets for sale (up to 20 miles).  Still, this mighty effort yielded little economic reward. Also, the sanitary conditions of production varied widely and would be impossible to monitor were we to simply purchase the products on the market.

We decided that we must perform the transformation activities ourselves under controlled conditions to insure quality and cleanliness.  This would necessitate purchasing the whole fruit from the tree owner families, which was unfamiliar in the cultural context.  We discovered that if we offered a per kilo price that approached the market value of the fully transformed products, we could generate interest in the communities to supply us.  Also, aside from harvesting and bringing the fruit to collection points we could reach with our truck, the people would be spared the considerable effort of transformation and going to market.  Instead of waiting to see if the products sold at all, we always arrive with cash in hand, which they greatly appreciate!  We always make sure that the families retain stock for personal use, because of the important nutrition the products provide.

From mid-December until mid-March, we are busy purchasing Baobab Fruit from many villages across a broad region in the Atacora province.  Some days we bring many truckloads for a total of as much as 2 tonnes to our transformation center in Kouporgou, where the ladies of our Co-op make the fruit pulp and prepare the seeds for the oil press.  We handle alot of Baobab!!

Once offloaded, the ladies scrup the greenish, itchy fuzz off of each fruit with brushes so it does not get mixed in with the fruit pulp.  Each morning, we set up each pair of ladies with 100 kilos of fruit to work on, and each evening we inspect and weigh the finished products.  First, the ladies crack open the fruit and scoop the contents (pulp-encrusted seeds and fibers) into handmade wooden mortars.  They then rhythmically pound the contents with wooden pestles to separate the powdered pulp from the rest. Then, we sieve the product twice to obtain superior quality fruit pulp, which is immediately bagged and sealed.  The seeds are retained for future transformation, and the shells and fibers are burned to produce ash for soapmaking.  We could automate this process, however we choose instead to employ more ladies and preserve indigenous skills.

In order to extract the kernals from the rock-hard seeds, they are boiled to soften them.  The seeds are individually hulled by hand, and the kernals washed, rinsed and sun dried. We then haul them to Boukombe, where we have electricity to run our modern oilseed press. The oil is a rich, golden hue and has a nice earthy, nutty fragrance.  It is wonderful on the skin!

We ship the products by container or sometimes by air to Olympia, Washington, where we are working hard to bring them to market.  Check our website and try them out!

You can see how we are distinct now.  We steward the entire process from the tree to the market instead of buying products and reselling them with little connection to the land or the people like other companies.  Baobab is King!

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