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In The Heart of Karethic
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“It is the story of a sacred tree, whose fruit contains a miraculous oil. For centuries, this tree called Shea, Karité or Shitulu, has been offering beauty and well-being to millions of men and women in Africa.”
This is a beautiful story, but what do we truly know about this African sacred tree exploited for centuries at the expense of African women?
Since 2005, Karethic’s mission has been to promote, and this, beyond the miracle products stories told in a thousand and one ways in the medias, the true Shea butter story ; the African women sacred balm, the handmade unrefined shea butter story. A fascinating butter symbolizing African spirituality. A gift of nature, unknown by consumers, because it is too often altered by refinement. A cultural heritage transferred form generations to generations, by thousands of female producers in Africa.
Karethic, Benin’s handmade shea, brings together 12 co-ops of female producers of shea, partners of the company Karethic Benin and its “little sister” Terrethic France.
Why Opting for an Integrated Value Chain?
Because we guarantee you the best of what Shea has to offer, including the unmatched know-how of the female producers, from the raw material to the final product : a fresh butter, naturally purified and full of its repairing properties.
Because the interest that you take in our products can directly help impacting the producers’ activity, their knowledge and their ecological heritage.
Therefore, from the Atacora Region – where shea almonds are harvested and shea butter is produced, to Cotonou (the capital city of Benin) and the Rhône-Alpes Region (Terrethic’s Headquarters), Karethic’s shea butter follows one unique journey without intermediary.
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These men and women contributed to the creation of Karethic. They share a common passion for their own culture. This passion led them to support the development of the Shea’s value chain in Benin. We like to think that Karethic carry the best of them. Maguette the Senegalese was there since the very beginning, Soumia the Algerian, provided her creativity to pay tribute to the female producers. Paco the Spanish, his patience and pragmatism, Catherine with her Vietnamese background, brought her dynamism and fun-filled personality, Davide the Italian added his indisputable taste for beautiful things, Didier, the French Ardéchois his experience, and finally, Glwadys and M. Jean-Pierre Ayité, Karethic’s team in Benin, brought their courage and perseverance, both qualities that turned out to be crucial in face of adversity.
If Karethic holds on to these values of quality and authenticity, it is especially thanks to the little groups of women producers in Benin, who soon will wake up to harvest the almonds of Shea giving each other courage for the rain will be right on schedule this time of the year, gathering up to add value to their labor, producing a soft, straw-yellow color, hazel fragranced shea butter, naturally purified but not refined : this genuine shea butter that will finally be appreciated for its true value.
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The partner groupings of the female producers are present in the Atacora. Involved since the beginning in Borgou, Karethic continues equally a close partnership with the women in Djougou for the making of end products, meant for sale at the sub-region market.
Choosing the Atacora region was natural for one can still find chemical-free soils there, and because there is a unique shea culture in Benin.
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The Sacred Link between Shea and the African Woman
African Spirituality teaches us that the woman, just as the shea tree, is a living being naturally gifted with the vital energy called ‘Nyama’ by the Mandingo people, ‘Ashe’ by the Yoruba people (also linkable to the ‘Prana’ in Taoism or ‘Shakti’ in Hinduism). This energy enables them to give life in particular. Therefore, only African women have the ability to approach the shea tree and receive the energy from the tree. For generations, they have possessed a unique knowledge and sacred savoir-faire that enables them to naturally extract shea butter while still preserving its wealth and vital energy.
This vital energy also carries the scientific name of ‘unsaponifiables’. The famous natural repairing components that is much sought after in cosmetics. But we do understand that an industrially extracted butter does not have the same value as the genuine butter extracted by African women. Their butter is not only unsaponifiable-rich but because it has been produced within the respect of the traditions and of nature (for instance, shea fruits are not pulled out of the tree, you traditionally let the shea tree release its fruits once they are ripe, ready and filled with oil), it also possesses a “soul supplement”.
For the northern Beninese female producers, producing a good shea butter is a question of honor. It is also about respecting Nature, meaning also respecting your own too. A woman must be able to produce, recognize and appreciate an impeccable Shea butter.
Besides the conditioning material, the hygienic and security rules that we provide to the producers, the preparation of almonds and the manual churning that unravel all the technical know-how of the producers, require a positive vital energy (Nyama), rigour, generosity, patience and a good hand-turn.
If they prove to be efficient at crushing shea almonds and at obtaining the grounds (showed above), there is still no machine that enables for instance, to obtain the texture guaranteed by the manual churning.
No machine brings together all of the above stated qualities…
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The shea producers who decide to join Karethic are aware that this is not a gazillionth non-profit project, which will disappear as quick as it appeared. Not to belittle some NGOs which do an amazing job on the field in mainly bringing their competences.
To have a better understanding of this position, talking with the producers is the best way to do it. One said once : “we are no slaves whose masters are throwing the leftovers once they’re done with eating. Thanks to Karethic, we actually acknowledge better life conditions, our daughters are going to school, and will be later like you.” These words sum up the real meaning of Fair Trade for Karethic, the reason why we are here. They give us the strength to keep going, because it is difficult to promote real shea butter fromAfrican women producers, without people thinking we’re doing this from a patronizing charity standpoint. Our action aims at bringing autonomy back to the Shea women and end this donation process. These women have experienced way too many projects being stopped from a day to the other. They want to have their destiny back in their hands. They want to be respected and acknowledged as the main actors in the Shea Industry, and be paid decently for their work and know-how.
This Fair Trade guarrantee ensures you, that not only we don’t just declare ourselves being fair towards the producers, but also that we have a real commitment to them, whose impact is being followed up and controlled by a third body.
Of course, the traditional criteria for Fair Trade Business can be challenged (especially when talking about a “fair” price, which is different from one country to another, the dependance of small producers, the lack of information and transparency). That’s the reason why we chose to have demanding specifications and certication on these topics with Bio Equitable, which is all for a substainable partnership between the producer and the consumer, based on mutual respect. If you want to see it to believe it, do not hesitate to come visit us in Benin for a true taste of Authenticity!
Well-organized Fair Trade starts with Local
We have the advantage of being from Benin, and we consider that adopting a non-ethical attitude towards our sisters and mothers is cheating ourselves and our identity. There are too many of these Western Europeans from Africa, that we have met on several tradeshows, who tell us that Organic and Fair Trade are just good for the Western World. But how can we fight with the Western World and tell them they’re stealing from our wealth if we’re not even able to treat our know-how and our ressources in a respectuous way? Of course, 1kg of shea costs only €0,70 in villages, but is this a fair price when you know the value of this ressource, the work of the women producers to protect it, to collect the almonds in the wild, risking their lives, and to produce the butter? Of course not. The consequence is that all these women prefer to sell their almonds at a low price, often for exporting, rather than transforming them locally. The role of Karethic, in giving value to this, as well as preserving the ressources of the African soil, restoring the true value of this Grand Cru real shea butter, and get the women producers better life standards, is a only a drop in the Shea Industry. But we hope that others will join at some point. Last nut not least, being from Benin prevents us from the women producers to be too easy on us, and it’s a good thing. We are the daughters of this country, we have to remain humble and thankful. In return, they share their knowledge with us, and we strive to share that with you on our blog.
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Maintaining Long-Term Value adds Economical Activity for the Women Producers
The Karethic adventure started in the North of Benin, with the study of an economical model enabling the preservation and promotion of shea female producers in African rural areas. Beyond the fair trade initiative, it is a continuous commitment for economic development and autonomy.
Promoting their work consists in not only determining their main strength – the mastering of a non industrial, soft production process, enabling the preservation of the butter properties – but it is also providing solutions to their weaknesses : butter stability, ability to create shea butter-based end products without refinement.
The results are : the hand-crafted shea butter put forward by the Karethic’s female producers (supported by technical analysis) corresponds to the international standards of quality, while offering amazing repairing properties never previously offered by refined shea, even though it is present in 98% of body care and hygiene products.
Karethic made a commitment to the female producers of Africa’s rural areas to develop an offer with unrefined, hand-crafted shea that enables :
- To offer either to the professionals or final consumers, a shea butter of quality truly containing all of its repairing assets, exempt from chemical inputs, which does not require deodorization, discoloration, or additional refinement.
- To preserve on a long-term period and promote an ancestral know-how, a specific production process, an environmental-friendly heritage, a specific culture.
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Shea only grows in the wild : It is “organic by nature” and encourages the food-producing crops of Sorgho’s Yam or Millet.
By organically certifying the soils that grow shea, while promoting the tree, we attempt to contribute to the local food-producing development and help to reduce intensive cultures which require chemical inputs.
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There has been some controversy over organic certification of shea trees.
Karethic has been rejecting this process because of the cost, and additionally, because the shea tree is not farmable : it grows without upkeep or fertilizer.
Then one day, while we were meeting with the shea butter women producers of the Atacora in July 2009, we received testimonies of chemical inputs used by their husbands for cotton’s culture. This had me convinced : bark blue rivers’ water, ill-formed newborns… I didn’t have to explain to them why organic food crops, they knew about it before I did, but the most difficult part was yet to come… Convince the Husband!
It is not the shea tree that is organically certified, but the soil from which it grows. It is true that most African villages have chemical inputs-free soils, but to not certify them organic is to let the possibility of intensive culture to evolve and recreating the mistakes of “developed” countries! To protect those organic soils, we “simply” decided to certify them organic by Ecocert. For us, it’s more than just a marketing move to seduce consumers. For us, it is a commitment.
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Association loi 1901, Bio Partenaire réunit des Petites et Moyennes Entreprises soucieuses de produire dans le respect des critères environnementaux et qualitatifs de l’Agriculture Biologique et des critères du Commerce Equitable.
UNIDO is the specialized agency of the United Nations that promotes industrial development for poverty reduction, inclusive globalization and environmental sustainability.
Searce is an international research agency specialised in customised market research for NGOs, Trade Promotion Organisations, Trade Associations and similar organisation that aim to stimulate the exports from developing countries to Europe.
in 2012, The Beninese Agency for Business Trade (“Agence Beninoise des Echanges Commerciaux”) met the Global Shea Alliance team in Benin and actively takes part in the promotion of the shea butter made by the women producers.