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Plants and healing: keeping it local.

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, preferring to continue producing soap with a small team of a dozen workers whose wages probably support as many as 100 Tanzanians.

Another example of Western businesses trying to exploit African resources comes from Uganda where many rural communities cultivate muringa, a perennial tree that, like neem, has many healing properties. The leaf can be dried and used as a dietary supplement which is especially helpful for those with compromised immune systems such as HIV/Aids sufferers.

Western companies have shown enormous interest in buying up the crop, at rock bottom prices, to export to the West where it can be sold at a huge profit. The few dollars being offered for this crop can be multiplied several-hundred fold after it had been packaged and distributed in Europe.

So I was particularly happy to see that Gus Le Breton and his company are focusing on preventing unsustainable harvesting and are supporting small-scale farmers so that they enjoy an decent income from their labours.

Anna Croze

Maputo, Mozambique
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Title Annotation:THIS MONTH'S PRIZE LETTER
Comment:Plants and healing: keeping it local.(THIS MONTH'S PRIZE LETTER)
Author:Croze, Anna
Publication:African Business
Article Type:Letter to the editor
Date:Jan 1, 2008
Words:379
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