2nd Trip: Welcome to Benin!

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, by Michael Stamm Production Insights Company

It has been two months that I’m now working for Gebana. After my first Togo trip I spent a month in the office in Zurich and I’m now flying back from Cotonou, Benin.

Gas station in Benin

I was feeling really good to be back in sub-Saharan Africa and get to learn about new people, new product, and new business.

The country

Benin is a small country in West Africa, neighbor of Togo, Burkina, Niger and Nigeria. It is, at first impression, really comparable to my first experience in Togo. They have the same currency, people have the same physical appearance, the same official language (French) and quite similar food.

Just landed, I was surprised how ‘developed’ the capital is, as almost all roads are paved! Then I quickly realized there is still a long way to go. For example, all hotels I went to have a big bucket in the toilet. At the beginning I was wondering why! But then, after a day I realized that water shortages are really common. And you eventually do not forget to fill your bucket and you learn to save water while showering! And I found that recycling is also a northern picky preoccupation. In Benin I could see that there is no waste water treatment plant and that they are burning their waste in open fields.

Poverty is also something really present. The traffic jam is usually an ambulant supermarket, where people come to your car trying to sell you all kind of stuff (from telephones, to wiper blade, via footballs, etc.). When my bus stopped, all people jumped on me, yelling “yovo yovo (i.e. white) buy this, buy that”.

Benin is a really democratic country where the president is elected by public vote (looks normal for most of Western countries but is not the case in many countries in Africa). However I would testify that human rights are not always respected: On the road, I saw a woman walking (with beautiful colored dress holding some food over her head)as she was just beaten up by a police car passing – only because she was walking a little bit on the road (like 99% of the people in this small town).

To finish on a more positive note, let’s have a few words about the food. Near the see, fish is the specialty. I remember some delicious grilled sole accompany with grilled plantain. In the countryside, most of the food is based with corn or couscous. Meat (when people can afford it) is usually chicken or guinea fowl. Chicken are actually really skinny and it is easy to eat a full one in a meal without feeling like Obelix!

Gebana Benin

I was really glad to meet Luc Loco, the general manager of the company. He is really pleasant, cultivated and motivated person. Most of the team is young and willing to grow the company in a very ethical way.

Gebana Benin is currently working with only one product: Cashew nuts.

Cashew

I was really surprised of the huge amount of manual work it takes to prepare cashew nuts and I would like to share the full process with you

  1. Collection: raw cashew nuts are attached to an apple that fall of the cashew tree (anacardium) usually between January and April.. First step is then to collect fallen apples and separate the raw cashew nuts. With apples, people can eat them fresh, make juice or even prepare alcohol.
  2. Steaming: Raw cashew nuts are now steamed under pressure to soften the shell. It will be easier then to remove the shell from the cashew nut
  3. Shelling: each shell is manually split longitudinally and the cashew nut inside is manually extracted
  4. Drying: the skin on cashew is dried in an oven at low heat for a few hours.
  5. Peeling: the skin of each cashew is removed by hand
  6. Grading: The whole cashew nuts are individually graded by hand according on how white they are, how big they are and how broken the nut is.
  7. Quality Inspection: The cashews of each grade are inspected according to the present quality standards for that grade
  8. Packing: Cashew nuts are packed in 50-pound (22.68 kg) multilayer barrier pouches

Benin is really well known for the high quality of it's cashew nuts. However, most of the actors in the market collect and buy raw cashew nuts there and ship them to Asian countries to do all the transformation process. Because it's cheaper for them to do the all process in Asia (bigger structures, more know how, more and better machines, etc.). However, the ecological footprint is really miserable. Cashew nut are shipped from Benin to Vietnam and then back to Europe to the consumers.

gebanas strategy is to integrate as much as possible of the full supply chain while giving access to market to small producers. By recently opening a structure in Benin, gebana is fully accomplishing this mission. Having a direct contract with one of the biggest distributor in Switzerland, gebana durably invests in the production zone, creates jobs and assures that small producers will have a constant buyer who pays him fair prices.

gebana Benin is currently working with mainly with two cooperatives. For this year the objective is to integrate a new one, the women cooperative of ZOU COLLINE.

All products are certified organic and fair trade.