Atacora has been all about Baobab production since the beginning. It will always remain our flagship, and will continue to help us create a poverty-killing sustainable development scheme in our home villages around Boukombé, Benin. However, there are many other valuable and healthy botanicals produced in the country that can also bring about positive social change and environmental stewardship. I’ve taken to the road with our main man, Jacob to get to know producers who fit and share our Fair Partnership model and who produce high quality, products with transparent traceability.
We left Boukombé on Saturday after a day of unsettling civil unrest due to a police officer shooting a young motorcyclist instead of giving him a ticket. The Otammari people do not take kindly to this sort of thing, and burned down their offices and houses, and ran them out of town. Security was better the next day, so off we went.
It turned out to be a 16 hour day of travel. The roads were OK until we got to Gannou, where we took the red dirt road toward Sinendé. Although a county seat, it is a really poor place, due in part to its remoteness. Three hours of rough road in the dense bush later, we arrived at the site of Groupement Timorou Souakpa, who we had come to see.
The site sits on 55 hectares of wild forest, and they have installed 192 hives out there. Wild bees colonize the hives and harvest pollen from Nèrè, Shea, Mango, Gmelina, Moringa, Cashew, Acacia, Ficus and many other trees and flowers to produce the most flavorful honey I’ve ever tasted. The production is fully organic, but not (yet) certified. We imported 160 liters of it with our last container, and clients who have sampled it are crazy about it! We are hoping to really open the market and bring badly needed income to this great group and their families.
We were greeted first by Conner, the new, local Peace Corps Volunteer, who is following the footsteps of Jake, who really helped the group develop its operation. He led us even further into the bush to meet the members. There are 27 members, 7 of whom are women. In addition to beekeeping, they have 3 hectares of organic gardens, which offer them nutritious food as well as income. The members that greeted us were the cutest bunch of old men you ever saw! They were super friendly and welcoming. Only one member speaks French, and not much of it. One really cool thing is that they are now providing trainings for beekeepers from around the country!
They showed us the garden and gave us some of the groups background and shared their vision. We visited the forest hives, and I presented Atacora and our mission. I asked a lot of questions about how their activities bring advantage to their families, and whether our vision was shared by them. 100%! It is precisely this kind of producer group that we want to adopt as our partners, for a better future for Beninese people. These are the days I love (and am very good at) my job!