Working as partners

An interview with Ralf Kunert

Managing Director of naturamus GmbH, a WALA Heilmittel GmbH subsidiary  

 

Mr Kunert, what exactly does naturamus GmbH do?

As an independent subsidiary of WALA Heilmittel GmbH, we purchase all the raw materials for Dr. Hauschka Skin Care and WALA Medicines. This involves about a thousand different raw materials, such as essential and fatty oils, fresh plants and pharmaceutical auxiliary substances like emulsifiers or raw globules for medicines.

You purchase the raw materials in organic quality wherever possible, but what do you do if this quality is not available?

If a raw material or sufficient quantities thereof are not available in organic quality, we initiate raw material partnerships around the world on behalf of WALA. The WALA philosophy expressly states that these partners should become financially independent. To do this, they need to sell their products to a wider customer base. We put a great deal of time and energy into implementing these principles.

You have already found a partner for the high-quality organic macadamia nut oil used in Dr. Hauschka Skin Care products. What criteria did this partner have to meet?

Organic quality and fair trade are key criteria for us. We therefore purchase organic macadamia nuts in Kenya and process them to obtain oil in our own production plant for quality reasons. Our local partner is LIMBUA, an organically certified Kenyan company that sells macadamia nuts and avocados that it purchases from smallholder farmers. LIMBUA was established as a result of the impressive ‘macadamiafans’ initiative founded in 2009.

What kind of initiative is macadamiafans and what makes it so impressive?

First and foremost, macadamiafans is based on a social concept. The initiative helps macadamia farmers in Kenya create short channels between producers and consumers. macadamiafans offers farmers and their families direct access to the export market so that intermediaries no longer take a large portion of the profits. This all happens in cooperation with the WELT:KLASSE Foundation. Student companies from Germany are responsible for selling the Kenyan macadamia nuts.

Once again for clarity: you are impressed by macadamiafans but buy from LIMBUA. What is the relation between these two partners?

macadamiafans Kenya Ltd. is the initial source. The founders, Hannes and Matti Spiecker, also established LIMBUA Group Limited to help farmers receive a better income. LIMBUA follows the exact same philosophy as macadamiafans. Whereas the market-related activities of macadamiafans, as a LIMBUA educational project, still follow the original idea behind the initiative and focus solely on student companies, LIMBUA also sells directly to large, commercial customers. This improves market access for the smallholder farmers who are already involved in the initiative, including for their other organic products. Since 2009, a major rise in interest has also been seen from neighbouring farmers. The expanded customer base means that it is now possible for more and more smallholder farmers to get involved. The latest technology with mobile phones and fingerprints comes into play here.

Mobile phones and fingerprints? That sounds interesting. Can you elaborate?

All macadamia nut purchases and sales made by LIMBUA are digitally recorded using LIMBUA’s computer system. This provides excellent transparency for Kenyan farmers. These use their fingerprint to confirm their identity in the system and log into their account, where they can not only record inspections of their farms by organic consultants but also the number of kilogrammes of macadamia nuts they are selling to LIMBUA. Once the figures have been recorded, the farmers receive a text message indicating how much money they will receive per kilogramme of their nuts. As soon as these nuts have been recorded at the LIMBUA factory using a barcode reader and the quantity has been confirmed, the money is credited to the relevant farmer’s mobile phone account. It really is brilliantly simple! And the whole process takes just a few hours.

 

You previously mentioned short channels between producers and consumers. But surely LIMBUA has to profit from the sale of the nuts as an intermediary, meaning that the farmers earn less?

LIMBUA naturally has to cover its costs. However, all of the profits currently go into expanding the activities in Kenya to enable more farmers to earn a fair price for their products. The farmers are definitely benefiting from the initiative.

You mentioned that farmer training is also recorded in LIMBUA’s digital system. What kind of training?

The farmers have a wide array of organic farming training courses and consultant visits financed by LIMBUA. The visits and participation in the training courses are basic prerequisites for the conversion of the farmers’ land to certified organic farming. This enables them to vastly increase their earnings as organic produce achieves a higher sales value on the market.

Are farmers not tempted to mix in conventional nuts with the organic ones?

The risk of this is extremely low. When the macadamia trees are in blossom, LIMBUA employees estimate the expected crop yield. If a farmer delivers more nuts than expected, he will only be paid once he has explained where the additional nuts came from. The nuts are also naturally subjected to residue analyses, for example to check for pesticides.

How many people currently benefit from selling nuts via LIMBUA?

In Kenya, 5,000 farmers receive a regular income from selling macadamia nuts to LIMBUA. This naturally benefits their families, meaning that ultimately, over 25,000 people can enjoy a better life thanks to macadamia farming. Many school children in Germany also benefit.

Why does macadamia farming benefit German school children?

It does so on a completely different level. The school children I mean are those who work with macadamiafans and the WELT:KLASSE Foundation to sell the Kenyan macadamia nuts in Germany. Several of them get the opportunity to visit the smallholder farmers in Kenya and gain an extremely valuable experience in doing so. They obtain a clear picture of how the global value chain works and how our purchasing habits affect people’s living conditions in the source countries. If you take care to buy sustainably produced goods, you not only protect the environment but also help to support farming families. By establishing the LIMBUA Foundation, LIMBUA is following a similar concept to WELT:KLASSE in Kenya.

A Kenyan Foundation that uses school children to sell macadamia nuts?

Not quite. The objective is slightly different. The LIMBUA Foundation is a non-profit organisation that works with schools and universities in Kenya. It focusses on raising pupils’ and students’ awareness of environmental correlations. It provides lessons on organic farming and biodiversity in general schools and at universities, but also at the LIMBUA tree schools. The aim is to create extensive social commitment that will hopefully create mutual understanding between Kenya and Europe.

Do you simply buy the macadamia nuts from LIMBUA or support the project in other ways as well?

First and foremost, we buy the nuts. However, we also assist the company with marketing, for example. In this regard, we believe that it is important for LIMBUA to not only offer macadamia nuts but also other products as the smallholder farmers’ entire farms are organically certified and used to grow all sorts of products. In 2016, for example, we worked with LIMBUA to have an initial batch of avocados from smallholder farmers in Kenya processed to make oil. We are also naturally aware that companies in the expansion phase can often face major liquidity problems. We have therefore supported LIMBUA in relation to finance matters and pre-financed the harvest, for example. It is simply important to us that we develop a long-term partnership based on social and environmental responsibility. We know that our customers also value this.

 

 

An unbroken chain
From macadamia seedling to finished product

Organic cultivation and fair trade are essential criteria for the ingredients used in Dr. Hauschka Skin Care products. This is why Dr. Hauschka sources organic macadamia nuts in Kenya. Its local partner is an organic-certified Kenyan company called LIMBUA, which markets macadamia nuts and avocados purchased from small farmers. The partnership offers many advantages: fair pay, transparency and premium quality. 

LIMBUA was founded in 2009 by Matti Spiecker of Germany and a German-Kenyan team. At that time Spiecker worked with some 140 small farmers, a number which has grown to 5,000 in 2017. These farmers provide LIMBUA with organic-certified macadamia nuts, which are then cracked in the company’s three local facilities.

 

Where it all begins

LIMBUA has its own nursery where its employees not only grow macadamia seedlings, but also avocado and mango trees. A tried-and-tested grafting technique lets the nursery employees produce a range of fruitful macadamia varieties which are adapted to the altitudes of the different farms. The growers can purchase the organic seedlings directly from the nursery and plant them on their farms.

 To sell macadamia nuts to LIMBUA, the entire farm has to be certified organic. The conversion to organic cultivation represents a major change for the farmers. Animal and plant by-products are used to fertilize the fields, contributing to the long-term fertility of the soil. Synthetic herbicides and pesticides are never used, which also has a positive impact on the health of everyone who works on the farms. LIMBUA helps the farmers as they adapt to this new form of cultivation, providing training and sending employees on site visits. A contractually guaranteed minimum price from LIMBUA lets the farmers plan for the long term.

 

A trip to Kenya

Our macadamia nut supplier LIMBUA not only offers top quality for our products but also reliable prospects for Kenyan organic smallholder farmers. We went to Kenya to take a closer look at how macadamia nuts are grown and to find out how the cooperation works between LIMBUA and the 5,000 smallholder farmers.

 

 

 

 

These Dr. Hauschka products contain macadamia nut oil.