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Civet perfume & Coffee. A call for community involvement.

Civet paste is a rare, ancient and highly esteemed perfume ingredient as well as a traditional medicine in the East.  Collected bi-monthly from the perineal gland of the adult Ethiopian Civet, it is still used in mainstream perfumery but mostly via black market back doors hidden from public sight and in a manner that contributes nothing to the well-being of the animals, the farmers, industry standards or the local economy.

Civet coffee, or Kopi Luwak, is a colonial tradition that has grown steadily in popularity the past few decades. Neither industry meets our Western standards for animal welfare and thus hover more in the shadows than the limelight.

Due to unacceptable animal welfare standards, we in the West, have boycotted the use of Civet in perfumes for over 50 years, yet this has done nothing to improve the lives of Civets or Civet farmers in Ethiopia and has likely caused more damage than good. With a reduced market, little income or resources to invest in higher standards of animal care, our boycott created a half century long stalemate in the industry.

The past decade or so has seen a growing trend in Indonesia where local Palm Civets are kept in battery cages under equally poor conditions, fed an unnatural diet of green Coffee beans which are excreted, collected and used to produce Kopi Luwak  Coffee, known as the world’s most expensive Coffee.

Creating a model Civet farm and new industry standards

This March will see my 4th visit to Ethiopia in an ongoing effort to help both the Civets and the Civet farmers by establishing an ethical model Civet farm.

A modern farm that meets Western standards could not only revive the market, break the embargo on Civet products, but serve as a model to set industry and animal welfare standards in both Ethiopia and Indonesia.

We are all touched by this situation in some way, even if we are not perfumers or Coffee drinkers. I believe we can’t wait for someone else to make things happen and that as a community we can have a profound and transformative effect in the world if we work together.

Besides concern for the animals, it is also important the Civet paste is processed into ready to use perfume ingredients in Ethiopia so the full value and the brunt of the profits stay in the local economy instead of lining the pockets of corporations in Western countries who already do quite well. We have been taking advantage of developing countries for centuries, buying their raw materials at rock bottom prices, making hefty profits on processing and selling them while little to no profit from value-added processing stays in the local economy. This is a fundamental problem that contributes to keeping developing countries from actually developing.

Though I believe no animal should be caged against its will, I feel we have to start changing things somewhere, and usually, the best place is right beneath our feet. If this is successful, and a greater market demand is re-established for Civet products, I see the eventual development of Civet paste collection systems that are non-invasive and work with the animals in their natural habitat while benefitting the conservation of quickly disappearing forests, wildlife habitats and green zones in Ethiopia. But as long as it operates in the shadows, nothing much will change.

A call for community involvement

This project is now at a crossroads.  In March I will travel to Jima, the main Civet production region in Ethiopia with farmers and exporters of Civet paste, we will have an up-close look at existing farms, potential real estate, and take the next steps to bring Civet products back into mainstream commerce in an ethical and broadly beneficial way.

I have written and spoken about this for over three years. Now I need to bring more than just words and a vision to the table.

Since no one person has all the skills and resources needed to bring this project to fruition, the next steps will be pursued by either an organized group of individuals contributing assets, skills and know-how, or it will be taken under the wing of an existing business with an interest in ethics and aromatics.

If we can organize a group of like-minded people to carry this idea forward, it will need

  •  The guidance of people with experience designing and building humane animal enclosures,
  • People with  Veterinary and animal care experience.
  • People with business acumen and the support of businesses willing to invest in it and ultimately profit from it
  • It could greatly benefit from involvement with Universities that might have an interest in conducting ongoing studies on these animals, in and out of nature.

There will be a need for tangible assets not easily accessed in Ethiopia. A shortlist would include items such as

  • Veterinarian  supplies and equipment.
  • Materials for animal enclosures and their ongoing care.
  • Laboratory equipment, used or new, and laboratory supplies for making perfume tinctures and absolutes.

If you have an interest in being involved, have access to resources such as these, know someone who could add their expertise, know of a buisiness that would contribute or lead the project, or if you can just pass the word on through your networks to catch the eye of the right individuals or businesses it would help bring this concept that much closer to reality.

I have Civet farmers and exporters ready to move forward with this project. What we need now is participation from the West to take it to the next level.

Any help and involvement is welcome. Questions and responses can be directed to connect@apothecarysgarden.com.

Funding the past 3 years for this project has come exclusively from purchases in my Etsy shop at  https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/ApothecarysGarden and donations from kind supporters via PayPal at  paypal.me/apothecarysgarden. Any and all interest and support is welcome.

For more information on the Civet stalemate with the West see my post-Ethical Civet, A view from the foothills

Dan

Posted on 17 Comments

Ethical Civet, A View from the foothills

African Civet wikipedia
English: African civet
English: African civet (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s been almost a year since my last visit to Ethiopia, after which I wrote the post, “Ethical civet a glimpse from the mountaintop“.  I must admit, when I returned home I felt overwhelmed, as it seemed the only way a model ethical  Civet farm could be established, was if I moved to Ethiopia, built it, and ran it myself. Much as I do enjoy a creative challenge, the task felt daunting.

Today the project feels a little less challenging and not as far off in the hypothetical distance. This shift is due mainly to the support I have received the past year from around the world and to a great degree from the natural perfume and incense communities.  A network is evolving, and I believe it could help carry this project to fruition.

Since writing that post, I have found an experienced Civet farmer, willing to work with me to establish a modern civet farm that will conform to our western standards of ethics and animal welfare. I plan to visit and speak with him in the next couple of months. It may lead to a model farm, or may not, but it is a step in the right direction. A successful project would greatly benefit the farmers, the wild and captive Civets, the local economy, and, I hope, bring awareness to bear on the shrinking natural habitats of Ethiopia. It would also guarantee an ethical source of pure and unadulterated civet products for perfume and medicine.

Civet Perfume Tincture 2014
Civet Perfume Tincture 2014

Incentive to write this post today, is due in part to a link that indie perfumer Marcus McCoy of House of Orpheus, posted regarding his use of my civet tincture in his perfume, and the negative response he received.  This makes for an ideal opportunity to recap and refresh, and share the project’s progress since then.

Our western boycotting of Civet production in Ethiopia over the past decades has yielded no positive results. It has had little effect on the captive Civet’s quality of life, and the native Ethiopian Civet population continues to decline. Since starting the boycott in the 70’s, after one of WSPA expose’s, no significant change in the treatment of captive Civets has evolved. I believe it has done more harm than good, and a new approach needs to be instituted to reverse the negative impact of the boycott and create a more ethical product, while preserving the native Civet population, guaranteeing a living wage for farmers and exporters, and slowing the loss of Ethiopia’s green spaces..

An Ethiopian Civet farmer holding the ox horn vessels traditionally used to collect and clean the paste. They have been handed down for many generations and emit an extremely heady fragrance.
An Ethiopian Civet farmer holding the ox horn vessels traditionally used to collect and clean the paste. They have been handed down for many generations and emit an extremely heady fragrance.

 

 

  • What the boycott did, was create a black market for civet products, where large international perfume and traditional medicine companies could purchase Civet paste and its derivatives, through foreign buyers hidden from public view.
  • It increased our reliance on chemical fragrance replacements which present their own set of negative side effects that impact us individually and globally.
  • Through lowering the demand, the boycott created a stasis in the price of civet paste, leaving international buyers to pit exporters against each other for the lowest possible price.

Today, the civet farmers often live in abject poverty with insufficient income from the animals to properly feed and care for the Civets or their families. They cannot afford medical attention for their families or veterinary care for their animals. They are simply in no position to institute or accommodate the extensive changes we are demanding from them. Many have abandoned the practice that has been a proud tradition in their family for generations.

In short, justified as we may feel, to indignantly boycott and suspend our financial support to the traditional and cruel treatment of Civets, I believe it was more of an emotional knee-jerk response on our part, and not a well thought out and responsible action. A boycott can be an appropriate response to affect change in some cases, but it is not a universal tool of political and economic advancement. In this case it was, I believe, a poor course of action that had no positive effect on any front and caused more damage than good.

With our boycott and the absence of market demand, the efforts of the government to modernize the industry over the years have encountered ongoing resistance from the farmers who have no incentive or anticipated return forthcoming from changing their traditional methods.

The Baku agricultural mechanization center where new and human designs for Civet traps and cages have been field tested with Civet farmers over the years.
The Baku agricultural mechanization center where new and humane designs for Civet traps and cages have been field tested with Civet farmers over the years.

The farmers are tired of being studied and researched. They need a market for their product.  Something researchers and government ministries cannot promise them. This kind of incentive and motivation can only be offered by us, the western buyers. Shall we do something about this? This is the only question there is.

I believe we need to admit we made a mistake in our reaction, learn from it, and take the time to properly address the problem in a way that is beneficial to all. In my opinion, when we have a solution that creates a win, win, win situation, we are on the right path. Instead of walking away from the problem, turning our backs and withdrawing our financial support, and hoping it will somehow force others to change, which it obviously hasn’t, let’s take action.

I propose working directly with the farmers, government agencies, local and foreign institutions of higher education, researchers, ecologists, architects, forestry experts, veterinarians, animal experts, and anyone else that can contribute to a healthy, ethical and thriving industry in a developing country. We have an obvious stalemate here, and someone has to take the first step to break it.

Reliable and highly valued beasts of burden are well cared for in Ethiopia
Reliable and highly valued beasts of burden are well cared for in Ethiopia

If one takes but a moment to contemplate the ethics and standards we choose to judge others by, we must also take the time to have a good look at ourselves. As many Ethiopians point out, we, in the western world, treat our domestic food animals with no higher ethics and no less cruelty than they treat their Civets. In fact, the time honoured art of animal husbandry is something we have completely abandoned in our rush to factory-produce animal meat by the ton and feed our growing Western population at a profit. Our own “back yard” is rife with examples of horrifying treatment of our food animals which most of us manage to ignore. Ethiopian domestic animals are highly valued on many levels and treated with much greater regard than we treat our “production” animals.

Though I don’t have a solution for our poor North American treatment of animals, and I know I can’t solve any of the world’s problems singlehandedly, I think I can take one small issue that calls to me, and see if I can improve it in some small way. And this is likely all any one of us can do. These posts, the Civet paste and tincture I sell in my shop, and my journey, are an invitation for others to join in, to share and engage in this project with me in any small way they like. Every click, every view, every sale and every share, adds momentum to change. Every conversation stimulated, whether for or against it, brings change closer.

We can’t sit back and wait for others to make the changes in our world. This passive approach only sets us up as victims of the system, leaving us spending more time complaining and pointing fingers at what is wrong, than doing anything to address the problems. We have much more power as individuals than we realize.

As the internet grows, and our technology advances, we are more empowered as global citizens than ever before. Today with the least amount of effort, we are able to create the greatest amount of change anywhere in the world. All it takes are a few well-chosen clicks of a mouse.

The big companies monitor and heed our every click. Our small choices colour the world’s markets and global trends. They even influence the political and economic tides around us. We can complain about this infringement of privacy, as most of us do, or we could use it to our benefit. Every time we click the mouse every time we purchase something, it is noted, recorded and taken into account. Every time we click we’re changing the world individually just a little bit. But what we don’t always see, is that the accumulative power of all these individual choices can be world-changing.

Preparing Civet perfume absolute from the raw paste. Professor Dagne's lab in Addis Ababa
Preparing Civet perfume absolute from the raw paste. Professor Dagne’s lab in Addis Ababa

You don’t need to be a perfumer, you don’t have to know what Civet smells like or ever want to smell it. You don’t even have to like perfume. All you need is the urge to do something to make the world a better place, to benefit someone other than yourself. A desire to contribute to something larger than yourself, and all it takes is a conscious click of the mouse, a tap on your phone.

If we clicked less on cute cat videos and games, lurked a bit less on Facebook, and asked ourselves how could we better use our time on our phones and computers, it would be a worthy act of awareness and self-improvement to change our surfing habits to more productive and creative expressions of our higher ideals. Our power nowadays is far beyond what we ever imagined.

So, I say, let’s support the farmers, let’s buy their products, work with them, and give them the means to create a new model from an outdated industry. Let’s not just wait for something to change on its own. If it hasn’t happened till now, it ain’t gonna happen. Ever.

Let’s stop the decline in the Civet population and perhaps even take a little step in saving the disappearing forests and green spaces of Ethiopia. We live in a tiny, lush, apothecary’s garden in a vast galaxy that provides us all our food, fragrance and medicine. Let’s all take care of it. Believe me, Ethiopia is not as distant as we like to think. Let’s pay the farmers more for their product, not less as we have till now, not because they’re asking but because it’s the way it should be.

Let’s give this ancient and rarest of Nature’s treasures the value and esteem that it deserves, and give the farmers the rewards and return they should see for their efforts regardless of what country they live in, or how poor their economy is. I have no doubt we will quickly see our animal welfare standards manifest on the other end. But, nothing will happen till we are willing to work with each other.

Dan
P.S. if you are not sure what to do next. Below, you will see a plethora of clickable buttons. Take your pick. Go wild. “Like”, Tweet, Repost, Reblog, Share, leave a comment or come browse my shop on the right. Have fun and know, every click counts, and you can make a difference in the world.