Baobab, Fair Trade and Sustainable Community Development
Hi Folks! If you've been following the blog, you've read how remarkable Baobab Fruit Pulp is as a superfruit for digestive health, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. I've written a bit about the skin care benefits of Baobab Seed Oil, and will expand on that in a later post. Today, I'd like to write about how Baobab is a vehicle for social justice in African communities. This is the primary motivation for Atacora Essential, Inc's endeavor to bring Baobab to the US market.
ABUNDANT RESOURCES AND TENACIOUS POVERTY
The magnitude of the Baobab resource in the Atacora Region of Northwestern Benin, and specifically the Boukombé area is astounding. During the dry season, when vistas are clear, one can see perhaps dozens from certain vantage points. In addition to Baobab Fruit Pulp and Seed Oil, many other parts of the tree help sustain the region's population. Indeed, these products are valued and consumed locally, but the sheer scale of the resource indicates a huge surplus.
Baobab Fruit Pulp and seeds are sold on local markets, but the glut yields very low prices for producers who not only have to process the products, but carry them up to ten miles to market. Infrastructure is poor, adding to the difficulty. Despite such a resource, healthcare, education, infrastructure and sanitation and a decent standard of living continue to evade local villagers.
Reliance on external means and intervention in the fight against poverty and inequality has yielded too little at great expense, and has created dependency. Atacora Essential is proud to be on the cutting edge of market based community development. However, the free market model can yield exploitation in the form of depressed prices, and continue the cycle of poverty, leaving families with a dollar or two per day. Fair Trade principles help to ensure a living wage for the producers of raw materials and those whose labor helps bring them to market. Atacora Essential is commited to adhering to and surpassing these standards. We pay a premium for whole Baobab Fruit, and the ladies of our Co-op earn a daily wage beyond what the can earn from other generative activities such as beer making or selling produce at the market.
PROBLEMS WITH FAIR TRADE
Fair Trade certification helps to insure that standards are upheld by companies trying to practice Fair Trade. There are basically two major certifying bodies; one in the US and one in Europe. This does not lend itself to a more democratically based standardization, and can point toward the monopolization of certification and the money generated by it. Speaking of money, these certifications cost in the neighborhood of 10-15 thousand dollars, with continual additional costs!! For a young company like Atacora Essential, this leaves difficult choices: Do we first invest in developing production capacity, employing more people, doing community projects and marketing, or do we drop very limited resources on a certification mark?? We at Atacora Essential love our community and are an integral part of it. Our commitment to Fair Trade is our commitment to improving the lives of our community by nurturing a sustainable economy. We are stakeholders in this task, and could not do otherwise. For now, we will self-affirm our commitment to Fair Trade and keep fighting the good fight, documenting our actions every step of the way and offering full, transparent disclosure. Hopefully, we will be able to afford certification at some point in the not too distant future to put some teeth in our words.
FAIR TRADE AND SUSTAINABLE COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT
The Fair Trade prices and wages we pay empower people, especially women, to access better healthcare, education and nutrition. Unlike aid money, hard earned money in peoples' pockets conveys a sense of ownership of their own futures, not dependency.
The stewardship which we apply to the Baobab (and other) resources, and the added value that market access conveys to them help to insure their sustainable use for generations to come. We pledge at least 10% of revenues for community projects that we co-create with stakeholders. We are a young company with very limited financial resources, yet we have already undertaken several small projects in partnership with local residents and government officials such as:
School remodeling with a contingency on girls' inscription
Distributing medical equipment and supplies to local health centers for injured, sick and handicapped people
Distributing soccer balls to schools (interestingly, teacher testimomials indicate that this has a profound effect on attendance!).
CALL TO ACTION
Do you want to contribute to this challenging but meaningful endeavor? The impact of Atacora Essential's actions on the communities of the Atacora region is immediate and already noticeable. By adopting a policy of CONSCIENTIOUS CONSUMERISM and purchasing products that are not only good for your own health and wellness, but have positive effects on the fight for SOCIAL JUSTICE, you become our partner in this fight and a member of our greater community. Please visit www.atacoraessential.com and purchase some of our Baobab Fruit Pulp, Baobab Seed Oil, Neem Seed Oil and Timuti Bracelets to help us and our Beninese communities create a better, healthier future. It would also really help if you would link this blog and our website to your blog and social media profiles to help get the word out. 'Like' us on Facebook! We invite your thoughtful comments on the blog, and would love the help generating discussion of these important issues.
Until next week...PEACE, David Goldman President, Atacora Essential, Inc.