Olowo-n'djo Tchala is the Founder and Director of Alaffia. In appreciation for our customers supporting their mission, he asked if they could please give away a lovely gift basket along with this blog post. Of course! So, given that February is Whole Trade Month here at Whole Foods Market and Alaffia is one of our wonderful Whole Trade vendors, enter a comment below by February 22, 2010, telling us what you like best about purchasing Whole Trade products. (Need a reminder about the benefits? Check out this Whole Trade Month post.) We'll select one comment at random to win the Alaffia gift basket.
Alaffia: Empowering Women and Preserving Cultural Knowledge in West Africa through the Fair Trade of Handcrafted Shea Butter.
In 2003, my wife and I founded Alaffia with the sole objective of using traditional knowledge to empower individuals and communities in West Africa. We formulate skin care products with shea butter handcrafted by our women's cooperative in Togo. Sales from these products provide direct economic opportunities for the most disadvantaged women in central Togo and also fund community empowerment projects in our local communities.
In late 2008, due to the global economic slowdown, we created EveryDay Shea
in order to continue employing the 300 Alaffia Cooperative members in Togo. The Alaffia Cooperative is the first stable employment these women have ever had, and for the past five years they and their families have relied on the income they receive from the cooperative. While the economic slowdown is painful to many families in the West,
it is even more difficult for individuals and families in poorer countries who already live on the edge.
EveryDay Shea is our value line of fair trade certified 32 oz shea butter body and hair care products that retail under $14. Our nationwide introduction of EveryDay Shea in January 2009 was made successful by the support of Whole Foods Market. Whole Foods Market is our largest customer and their willingness to retail EveryDay Shea had an immediate impact on our shea butter cooperative. The demand for shea butter that it created enabled us to maintain membership, and we even added members for the first time in five years. In May 2009, we added four experienced shea butter crafters, and in July, we recruited an additional five young members.
To me personally, the addition of the five young women to the cooperative is the most meaningful achievement of EveryDay Shea. Adding young people to the cooperative means that they will learn traditional knowledge and crafts, which are vanishing throughout the West African savanna. Most young people in our communities no longer value traditions and cultural knowledge due to the impact of economic and cultural globalization. I strongly believe that maintaining traditional crafting is not only sustainable, but is the greatest opportunity that African communities have in getting out of poverty.
For instance, like the majority of African women born prior to 1960, my mother cannot read or write in any western languages.
Therefore, my mother and her peers are excluded from the economic system. However, if we consider their traditional crafting knowledge as economically valuable, then their skills are useful to the system. Valuing the skills of these women allows them to provide for their families, which provides a sense of self independence as they are no longer forced to rely on outside aid for survival. Furthermore, African states are not industrialized. In fact, they should not become industrialized in the model of the United States, Europe, and now Asia. The only sensible option for us is to focus on our traditional knowledge and indigenous resources embedded with moral trade practices. This paradigm can only be realized with a distribution platform for these traditional crafts and resources. In Alaffia's case, Whole Food Market provides an important opportunity by making our traditionally based products available to the public.
My experience being born and raised in abject poverty in central Togo and my interactions with various societies around the world have convinced me that reducing poverty and bringing about gender equality in West Africa can only be achieved through trading African resources at fair value. The impact of EveryDay Shea, from the response of our customers in the United States to the effect on our cooperative in Togo, strengthens my conviction that it is possible for poor communities to become self sustaining without the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.
Don't forget to enter your comment for a chance to win an Alaffia gift basket.
By February 22, 2010, tell us what you like best about purchasing Whole Trade products. (Need a reminder? Check out this Whole Trade Month post.) We'll select one comment at random to win the Alaffia gift basket.
Alaffia Founder Olowo-n'djo Tchala with new Alaffia Cooperative Members, August 2009.
Alaffia Cooperative Member Assibi Rahamatou, May 2009
Alaffia Cooperative Member Salifatou Ganiou, May 2009
Alaffia Cooperative Member, Yina Zibera Tchagouni, May 2009
Alaffia Cooperative Member Adjaratou Kadiri, May 2009
And the winner is... (announced 02/23/10):
I like that the products provide the opportunity for less advantaged people groups to have a job and skill that enables them to provide for their family in some way. I’m glad that Whole Foods doesn’t just go with the huge corporations, but touches the world with support.