Foundations and Growth
Atacora has been the direct producer of Baobab Superfruit Powder and Baobab Body Oil since 2010, in the beautiful and remote Atacora region of Northern Benin, West Africa. We go to the trees and have personal relationships with more than 500 producers of whole Baobab Fruit. Our products are traditionally processed at our Fair Partnership Women’s Co-op, where 48 wise women are currently employed.
When we first started producing, few people in Western markets knew what Baobab was. We spent a lot of time writing and teaching people about the African Tree of Life’s many virtues. Starting in 2013, and exploding in 2014, awareness and demand have skyrocketed. All of a sudden, we really need to produce huge quantities!
Big Happenings in Baobab Country
I foresaw this prior to my trip to Benin in September 2013, and the Beninese team went into action! We built a big addition to our production facility, bought a box truck, revamped and expanded our staff, and created a bulletproof system of traceability to support our Organic Certification.
We also took to the airwaves on local radio and presented dozens of training and information meetings in many remote villages, to get the word out that we want to purchase as much Baobab fruit as possible, at prices above what producers can find at often distant local markets for finished products.
The Beninese Baobab Playing Field
I mentioned that Atacora did a lot of pioneering work to gain recognition for Baobab in the Western marketplace. This pioneering extends all the way to the trees as well, and is ongoing. Before launched our mission, no one had ever bought or sold whole Baobab fruit in the area before. For reasons of hygiene and quality control, we knew that we needed to perform all transformation work in our own, controlled facility…so we built one ourselves. Bringing producers to the understanding of the advantages of joining the Atacora group is no small task. The resident Otammari people are proud, stubborn and abundantly cautious. New ideas need to be tested and fully understood.
Our constant presence in producer villages is the key to bringing more producers on board.
Sometimes, a producer will have a dozen big Baobab trees, which could yield upwards of a ton of fruit, but will only sell us 100 kg because he wants to be sure that we are giving a good deal, stubbornly sticking to the old system despite it being less attractive financially, and from the standpoint of effort. Building trust is a huge part of our Fair Partnership mission.
Fair Partnership, Face to Face
The 2014 harvest has been very encouraging, and the overture of the market has been outstanding. Atacora must sustain its growth in response. I worked closely with the Atacora team in Benin for 4 months during this last visit. Metaphorically, we have a great toolbox and improved skill set as a result. Now to apply it to building! We saw that when reticent or new producers witnessed the great prices and on-the-spot payment to established ones, they started coming out of the woodwork to sell! This is exactly what we need to keep up, through trainings, site visits and maintaining our constant presence and media blitz.
Sounds easy or straightforward? It is not! We need to really feel and understand the minutia of the cultural reality in which we operate, which can change a bit from one village, zone or clan to another. That is why our personal relationships with producer villages are quintessential to our success, and the foundation of our mission.
Community Revitalization with Baobab
An amazing qualitative measure of the effect of Atacora’s work in the region is a noticeable rekindling of inter-village relations and collaboration. This was brought to my attention at a feast/ event put on by producers in the village of Kounagnigou. Dignitaries from throughout our large work zone walked and pedaled to attend. Many gave eloquent speeches celebrating the economic boost and social solidarity Atacora is bringing. Being a celebrated community actor is a great source of pride for all of us at Atacora!