There are two major goals we hope to achieve on this trip : First, to come to a mutual understanding with producers about the impeccable quality of products that is needed to satisfy and surpass the standards of the international marketplace, and how best to ensure that quality. Second, to come to agreement on the Fair Partnership standards of socio-economic justice that are Atacora’s moral underpinning, and see that they are applied by every producer when working with the grass roots actors ; a large part of which is that women be promoted as primary economic actors.
Benin has bountiful and sustainable natural botanical resources, and a population willing to work for fair prices and wages. Thus, the key to unlocking this society’s potential and throwing off the burden of poverty is already in the hands of the people. It is just a matter of understanding how to properly condition their products to international market standards and be consistent about it, as well as how best to engage with grass roots producers and workers to uphold a decent standard of living for all those implicated in production that is needed to unlock a bright future for this beautiful country and her beautiful people. This applies to all of Africa and the developing world, as well.
Moringa oleifera: Association Beninoise de Moringa
We met with the Association Beninoise de Moringa, another non-governmental organization last Tuesday morning. Atacora has long since had the idea that sound business is the only viable path toward a self-directed and better future for African people. These ABM guys, as well as the other producers we have met on this trip agree. For far too long have organizations like the World Bank, Helvitas (Swiss), various UN programs and a million others conceived ideas about Africa’s future without understanding Africa or Africans. They pour money on poverty, touting their over-wrought and foreign design for the future of the continent. This creates a false and unsustainable economy where people with entrepreneurial initiative cannot compete with heavily funded competitors. Worse, they have created a dependency on external solutions which has infected the minds of Africans, who often no longer see their own power of determination. Atacora is all about bringing that subject mentality to a grinding halt by demonstrating the value and richness of local natural and human resources.
ABM is yet a young organization. Like the Shea Butter Association, they are seeking to train producers to make a sound, standardized and uniform product of the highest quality, so as to offer it on the local and to the international market. They are not there yet, and they know it. They are working toward that goal, and wisely not delving too deeply into the global marketplace before everything is just right. This organization, like the others we’ve established relationships with, is commited to fair and just socio-environmental practices as they develop the sector. Once again, the Fair Partnership model is a natural fit! Glad we thought it up!
The Moringa tree is something miraculous to behold. The leaves offer nutrition virtually unparalleled in the plant kingdom, and are among the best tools in the fight against malnutrition. The seeds produce an oil not only edible, but among the best base cosmetic oils. The seed meal can clean dirty water and make it potable, and the roots and bark have enourmous utility in traditional medicine. Plus, this is an unbelievably fast-growing plant, and can be nurtured to provide either seeds or leaves to suit local or global market needs. It works very well in polyculture association with other crops, or on its own.
Atacora has its own modest plantations; the one next to our production facility for leaves and the one at the farm out in the bush for seeds. Both are still in development, and, as of yet, relatively unexploited. We are also seeking Fair Partnerships with existing producers who can meet our standards of quality and social justice. We have identified some who, with a little nurturing will soon fit the bill, and have more encounters scheduled. We are unlocking potential every day. Stay tuned!
Moringa Production at ASPEL-Benin
ASPEL’s Director, Juscelin, is an interesting guy. He’s very sharp when it comes to attracting funding for his project, but some very fundamantal details just do not register. The organization is situated on about 3 hectares in Attiemé, in Benin’s Southwestern Mono province, right near the mighty Mono River that is the border with Togo. The moringa trees are densely planted in association with beans (which fix nitrogen to fertilize the trees) and other vegetables. There are also two rearing ponds for Tilapia and Catfish.
Juscelin is very fixated on pretty and superfluous packaging…so much so that he delivered the 100 kilos we ordered in neat 500 gram jars, with plastic liners and labels…for no apparent reason. He also failed to understand that we paid for 100 kg if Moringa powder, not 100 kg of powder, plastic and cardboard! We ended up with 45 kg of product and a lot of waste. He was concocting explanations and excuses, which fell on my deaf ears. Sorry, Dude, but you owe us 55 kg. He did have some Certificates of Analysis for his Moringa, which showed that there is still some quality control work to be done to bring the product up to snuff. He is working toward HACCP certification, but I’m not sure he understands fully what that really entails, and why it is important. When I told him that Organic certification would really open up the international market, he still talked about wanting to use fertilizer. He needs to seriously listen to the advice of his Peace Corps Volunteer Technical Assistant, and really understand the conditions of marketability in the global marketplace.
After our tour of Moringa collectives, we have identified 100% sustainable moringa and are very happy to begin to offer bulk Moringa Leaf Powder!