Its been ages since I last wrote a blog, and a lot has happened over the past couple months. First, Bioessence finished their application for Organic Certification (we’re still waiting for the verdict). Second, I had some visitors and was able to take some time off work to travel with them!
Despite all my reservations, the inspector, M. Boukary (picture right), for Ecocert (the French organic certification body Bioessence is working with) came from Burkina Fasso to Kédougou to see if the procedures and the organization was up to their harsh standards. I wasn’t worried because Bioessence isn’t secretly adding chemicals or stripping the environment of its natural resources. No, the Baobab fruit is about as organic as it gets coming straight from the Baobab forests of southern Senegal and being harvested manually without bringing harm to the environment. What really worried me was the lack of organization and documentation that would help Bioessence to be considered professional and transparent enough to assure a product that is uncontaminated and traceable from harvest of the raw material to packaging of the finished product.
I went to Kédougou about 5 days before the inspector from Ecocert was to arrive so that I could prepare the women’s groups and make sure that all the facilitators were available. The inspector would need to see every production unit and also where the fruit was collected. He would also need to speak with the producers directly and all the facilitators. But since he was only able to stay in Kédougou for no more than 3 days, there was a lot to organize beforehand. Luckily I had some help!
My boyfriend, Dan, arrived in Senegal just before the big inspection, and while I’m sure he was hoping to have a more relaxing vacation, I really appreciated having his help and support! I also had Basse with me as our driver from Bioessence who did so much more than just driving us around. Our mission included:1) Finalizing formal written partnerships between Bioessence and the women’s groups/ fruit harvesters of Kédougou.
2) Providing a short training on organic certification (what does it mean to be organic, why get the certification, quality and hygiene procedures required, etc).
3) Organizing demonstrations and interviews for the inspector.
Organization has been the real challenge since written contracts and documentation are not developing Africa’s strong suit. To build what Ecocert calls a “System for Internal Control” we used a mix of on the ground supervision by designated members of the production groups and a chain of documentation to record production and practices.
When M Boukary came to Kédougou, he was escorted by Adama Diop, the mother of Mame Khary (director of Bioessence). She is also one of the most enterprising, motivated women I’ve met here in Senegal (or anywhere, for that matter) and her presence during the visit really made everything come together! We made a good team because she knew how to communicate with the local producers (literally, she could speak their language) much better than I could, and I knew who to contact on the ground and the technicalities of the internal system of production. We were also helped by the fact that the inspector was not on a mission to seek out all the faults of Bioessence, but more to help identify areas of weakness that we can strengthen as we get certification. It turns out that they often deal with businesses that are much less organized than we were and he was fairly impressed by what we had been able to do so far.
So now we wait to. In my opinion, even if we don’t get the certification, we have succeeded. Just looking around the factory in Dakar you can see how this certification has pushed Bioessence to develop and raise their standards. In Kédougou also, there are new storage buildings, equipment, signed partnerships and promises for further development in the future.
It’s been very rewarding taking part in this process and the lessons I’ve learned about running a transparent and sustainable enterprise in Senegal will serve as a guide as I continue to work with enterprise development in Senegal.
To see more photos from the trip, check out the link to photo album "Dan and Kayla in Kédougou".