Known as “The Tree of Life” to many, Baobab is becoming the emerging leader in the Superfruit industry because of its many health benefits. This massive tree can grow up to 20 meters tall and about 15 meters wide. It can store thousands of liters of water, and when tapped during the dry months, it can offer clean usable water to the community.
From The Beginning
Atacora 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 is an integral member of the community, providing jobs, supporting community enhancement projects and helping the local economy through Fair Partnership.
Before Atacora 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, all the while benefitting them greatly as they would receive badly needed income. We then got to work right away and started building our own production facility and hired women to traditionally hand-process our Baobab products however, we wanted to make sure that they greatly benefited from their hard work as well so we started by offering Fair wages.
To The Present
It is currently Baobab harvesting season and the trees are full with fruit. We currently have 900+ producers and are busy purchasing Baobab Fruit from many villages across a broad region in the Atacora province. We pay the tree growers cash for their Baobab Fruit and offer them an income that they other wise would not have. 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 Fair Partnership Co-op make the finest Baobab Fruit Pulp and Baobab Body Oil on the market.Once offloaded, the ladies scrub 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 baobab powder 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 soap making. We could automate this process, however we choose instead to employ more ladies and preserve indigenous skills.
Atacora’s production facility and office are situated in the villages of Kouporgou and Boukombe, in the Atacora region of northern Benin. People there are poor despite abundant and valuable resources. Atacora applies a percentage of its revenues for community driven development projects in the fields of education, health and the environment.
The money that Atacora pays the women supplements their earnings from agriculture and beer brewing. The Atacora region is dominated by subsistence agriculture activities, and therefore there is a weak cash economy. Vital services such as health care and education require people to have money, and the prices and wages we pay the tree-growers and Co-op ladies opens access to these services, that they might not otherwise have.
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.