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Plant a seed, grow an island

The story of Serendicoco Samoa, and an island’s reach for agricultural, economic, and cultural abundance

This article appears in our 2018 All-One! Report, read the full report here.

I grew up in Cologne, Germany, part of the post-war generation.  We didn’t have much, but we did have books.

When I was just 11 or 12, my dad let me read “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich,” a frightening account of the Nazi regime. My generation later realized that many Nazis were still in power, so from a very young age, I was aware of shit being swept under the carpet. Beyond political deception, I had an awareness that something was deeply wrong with our culture. Social justice, environmental justice, global development—these became my issues.

After receiving my Masters in Physics, I moved to the United States for a broader view, and got a PhD in environmental science and engineering from UCLA. I was consulting with the hemp industry in the late ‘90s when I met David Bronner. He impressed me with his curiosity, his openness—his vision—and in 2005 we saw an opportunity to cooperate on building a fair and sustainable supply chain. Working with a company that tackled, in a strategic, undogmatic and human way, the same global problems I felt so strongly about—for me it was a dream.

Over the last 12 years, our team—with committed partners in Sri Lanka, Ghana, India, Kenya, and Samoa—have built and grown five fair trade and organic projects around the globe, producing over 4,000 metric tons a year. These are integrated farming and processing projects, providing support and training to local farmers and staff. Beyond the production of a product, our work is an investment in the health of the soil, the farmers, their families, and communities.

In Samoa, where we will eventually source most of the coconut oil for Dr. Bronner’s soaps, we have an opportunity that is even more radical: to leverage regenerative organic agriculture in a way that can heal the land, enrich the community, and preserve a culture.

Since the late ‘90s, the Samoan coconut oil industry has been in decline. Unable to compete with larger producers, coconuts were left to rot on the ground. Some 3,000 farmers who had farmed for generations not only lost a market, they lost meaning and self-value.

By forming a joint venture with an experienced conventional producer and converting to organic and fair trade, we are able to raise nut prices by 50%—a massive incentive to Samoan farmers, with potential to rejuvenate the backbone of their economy. And, by replanting aging coconut trees in mixed permacultures through a practice called dynamic agroforestry, we can diversify island agriculture and improve its resilience to climate change—all while helping to preserve the culture and traditions of its people.

Samoa is a great example of the benefit of purchasing organic and fair trade products: you enrich the lives of the people who produce them, and the soil that grows them.

 

Author Profile
Gero Leson

Gero Leson is Vice President of Special Operations at Dr. Bronner’s. Since 2005, he has been responsible for Dr. Bronner’s sourcing of major ingredients from certified fair trade and organic projects.

See all stories by Gero Leson