Plants and healing: keeping it local.

Author:Croze, Anna
Position:THIS MONTH'S PRIZE LETTER - Letter to the editor

I found your article by Dominique Magada on Africa's healing plants highly encouraging ("Africa's Healing Plants Find International Markets", African Business, December 2007). How often do you hear such positive news coming from our continent--about a business proposition in which Africa's small-scale farmers stand to gain substantial new income streams? Furthermore, the business model actually protects them from predatory Western companies who want to follow the old formula of coming to Africa, taking our resources and adding value in the West. These companies make a small fortune out of these kinds of ventures while those that actually grow or gather the produce are left with just a pittance.

There are many instances of Western buyers coming to Africa to exploit rural communities. In Tanzania, a friend of mine began a 'Fair Trade' business manufacturing high quality soaps for Europe and the US. What made these soaps so attractive was its most important ingredient, Neem oil from the Neem tree.

This extraordinary oil has been known to have wonderful properties for centuries. As soon as my friend had established the business, buyers from the US and Europe came calling. But they did not want to buy the finished 'added value' soap product--they wanted the oil itself. My friend refused to deal with them...

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