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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

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Kenya to Canada-Landing at a run

Since returning from Africa 2 weeks ago, it feels like I landed running, and I don’t yet see a respite in the near future. My keynote speech at the Viridis Genii Symposium is coming up fast which means I had better get travel arrangements to Oregon made ASAP, and with any luck get a day in Hawaii with master distiller Jack Chaitman of Scents of knowing, whom has long held my admiration and respect. He is figuratively and literally a wizard with plant intelligence and essential oils.

Spring is just starting to show here in Southwestern Ontario and the tree buds are swelling on the Niagara escarpment, finally clothing their winter nakedness with a bit of brown.  I hear the Wild ginger and Witch Hazel calling me. I have to get out of the studio  and visit with my plant friends.

For those who generously supported my travels though prepurchasing the Ethiopian Essential oils and professor Dagne’s lovely “Duet” co-distillation of Boswellia Papyrifera and B. Neglecta, the package is finally here from Ethiopia after many delays. I will be bottling them and hope to ship them out beginning of the week. I will also get these gems posted in the shop in the next few days, so keep checking back. I should also mention I am trying out $6.00 flat rate shipping in the shop. If I don’t lose my favourite shirt with it, I will keep it permanently.

My Ethiopian shipment came in with gorgeous fresh Frankincense and Myrrh resins. The Boswellia Papyrifera is in the largst most succulent chunks I have ever seen. Both the Myrrh and Opoponax resins are fresh, fragrant, vibrant and excellent representations of the species. The Boswellia Rivae is as deliciously sweet as ever, and part of me hopes it doesn’t sell so I can smell it and play with it as long as possible.

 

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Beautiful and aromatic, unusually large chunks of Ethiopian Frankincense Papyrifera in the shop now.

 

 

I want to thank everyone who has placed orders for resins, essential oils and my Astrodynamic products the past few weeks. Your patronage is a true compliment and your support is heart warming.

That being said, as a one man show, I may have to hire extra help with this influx of  orders, so please bear with me while I adjust to the new pace of sales in the shop… ……

In the meantime, to entertain, (distract), you, I am posting some photos from my visit in Kenya and the Samburu tribe courtesy of the talented photographer and wonderful travel companion, Minna Kalliokoski. Many have asked for them, so it will also be one thing I can tick off a job list that strangely seems to be growing daily and not getting any shorter.

Finally, I want to thank everyone for their generous donations to my work with indigenous harvesters and efforts to establish fair and sustainable trade of resins and other fragrant/medicnal materials. I could not have met and worked with Civet farmers, Somali resin co-op managers or the resin harvesting women of the Samburu tribe without your financial support. This influx  was unexpected and heartwarming. Much more than money, I was bolstered by the appreciation and warm moral support for these ventures. It makes me feel like change is possible in our world. That we can all work together to make this a better place for everyone, plants, animals and people. It felt like  a net of love that somehow appeared under a crazy idea and a leap of faith. My deepest and most sincere gratitude to you all!

Dan

 

 

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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.

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Ethical Civet-a Glimpse from the Mountaintop

 

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

My apologies to all for the long silence. Especially to Jane, Genie, Theo, Hassan and all those who I had hoped to visit in London on the way back. After 5 weeks, 50 hours of flights and delays, over a month of sleeping on cots and floors, I am home, in my own sweet bed, sheepskin and velvet, purring cats, and it’s good being home again.

Home Sweet Home
Home Sweet Home

This was my second trip to Ethiopia following a winding trail, on a quest for “Ethical Civet”. An ethically produced, and cruelty free, ancient, medicine and fragrance material. A classic ingredient in traditional perfume making for centuries.  I have hunted, researched, emailed and phoned.  Flown, driven and walked many miles, and met many dead ends over the course of the past 4 years to see what could be done, and what has been done to humanize the industry for our use, and find out if it is at all possible.

A civet in Gabon
A civet in Gabon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The civet Civettictis-civetta–  Called “Zbad” in Arabic and other local languages, is an ancient symbol and totem animal of Ethiopia. Considered by many the only type of Civet to yield a high quality perfume ingredient. A name  always uttered in the same fragrant and descriptive sentence that has defined Ethiopia for thousands of years,

“Frankincense, Myrrh and Civet”.

Queen of Sheba traveling to Solomon. A fresco ...
Queen of Sheba traveling to Solomon. A fresco in Ethiopia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Said to be one of the gifts The Queen of Sheba brought King Solomon in their day, and thought by some to be the third rare, fragrant gift the “Magi” brought the baby Jesus, (ZBD and not ZHB, Civet and not Gold),  each often worth more than its weight in gold.  Zbad is also used on occasion as a word meaning  a “Gift” in the old testament. Food for thought.

*****

 Many have inquired about sourcing ethically produced Civet paste and absolute.  Before I go any further, let me say, ethical Civet paste is possible, BUT, to the best of my knowledge, is NOT available yet, and it will not happen on its own. Not to our western ethical and humane standards. If you would like to buy the next best thing, Civet paste that will support the development of a sustainable and cruelty free industry, please look at the bottom of this post.

As far as I can see, humanization and modernization can only come to be, through the initiative and ongoing involvement of outside interests working directly with the animals, and in tandem with government branches and farmers. It will only happen through our involvement.

   Though a western ideal that conflicts with local culture and traditions of Civiculture, it would not only benefit us, but directly benefit the animals, Ethiopia’s rapidly shrinking forests and natural habitats, the traditional Civet farmers, and the local economy. 

Civet Paste-Ethiopia 2014
Civet Paste-Ethiopia 2014. In Professor Dagne’s lab, getting ready to make a perfume absolute.

Standing atop a peak past Bako in the Oromia province this last journey, I could see a “Model” Civet farm in the distance.  It was a possibility glimmering on the horizon. I could also see the many obstacles along the way. It would be a challenge to create such a thing.  Not something any one person could reach on their own without substantial resources, commitment, local and foreign support.

A large structure housing spacious and modern cages.  A place to bring responsibly trapped and tagged Civets from local forests, for a 6-8 month period of research and collection of musk. An opportunity for researchers to study them in captivity and in their natural habitat.

The facility worked with conservation, forestry, legislative, and research sections of government and universities to study, preserve and conserve rapidly shrinking green spaces and wildlife habitats, while practicing  humane alternatives to traditional Civeculture methods, and developing the highest quality export products.

African civet Civettictis civetta Deutsch: Afr...
African civet Civettictis civetta Deutsch: Afrikanische Zibetkatze (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Civets are traditionally kept in tiny tubelike wooden cages they can barely move in, for life. Poorly cared for and traumatically relieved of their musk every 9-12 days. (Many do not survive the harsh trapping methods or the first extraction of musk). The farmers are so poor they usually cannot feed the animals properly, and most can’t afford medical help for the animals let alone their own families. Their living conditions are indeed abhorant and cruel.

This model farm had modern veterinary and laboratory facilities, operated as a center that could provide instruction, subsidised cages, food, humanely trapped and tagged Civets, supervision and veterinary services.  It had its own lab where raw Civet paste was tested for quality and  Civetone levels, and processed into absolute for the perfume industry. A side of the business and a revenue, that till now has always been in the hands of foreign “developed” countries.

As an ethical, natural and cruelty free perfume ingredient, it could generate much more income for the farmers and the country. It could be a model of a model farm, and duplicated in different areas of the country where Civet farmers and co-ops were already established. Answering to the western world, with the power to monitor and confirm ethical and cruelty free practices, it could transform established practices to the benefit of all.

*****

There were a couple of other disturbing things I noticed while I was up on that mountaintop. Ethiopia’s green spaces, wildlife and old growth forest were quickly disappearing. Eaten up daily for lumber, charcoal cooking fuel, low yield, ox tilled agriculture, and grazed to the ground by millions of goats, cows and sheep. There was no roadkill on the highway, an occasional dog, but no wild animals left to cross the road. There was an odd silence that way.

 A joke.Why did the Civet cross the road? It didn’t, there weren’t any Civets left.

Our planet is a very small garden in a big universe, it belongs to all of us. We are all affected by every tree felled  for charcoal or agriculture, every animal that suffers or loses its habitat, every green-space is our responsibility. Poverty, disease and strife anywhere in our world is our business. It is our world. All of us. Space, borders and ownership, all distinctions are illusions. We are born from one living dynamic organism of which we are all intrinsically a receiving and contributing part, we are woven in to the fabric of this planet wherever we are. We can’t afford to look the other way.

*****

 Due to the connections and experience of my most gracious host, and co-conspirator, the esteemed Professor Dagne, of Addis Ababa University, we were able to accomplish much more than we had hoped for this time round. The professors enthusiasm, contacts, knowledge of the of the land, physically, historically and bureaucratically , yielded an abundance of new information and resources, which will take me some time to digest and share here. So bear with me, this might take a few posts.

An antique Ox horn, used to transport Civet paste to market and abroad. Courtesy Prof. Dagne.
An antique Ox horn, age unknown. A traditional vessel used  to  collect Civet paste.  Courtesy Prof. Dagne.

The culture of keeping Civets in Ethiopia, the techniques and practices used to produce the best and the most Civet paste from the animals, are still cruel, primitive and truly barbaric by our standards. They are also deeply entrenched traditions handed down from father to son for generations.   Based as much in culture and religion as superstition, they conflict directly, and at every turn, with our ethical standards for the treatment of animals. To gain a better understanding of why this is, here is an excellent study.

The Cultural Logic of Civiculture in Ethiopia

  Below, is one of the most influential, damaging and accurate reports done on Civet farming in Ethiopia. Written by  Mike Pugh, a representative of the WSPA in 1998, it is not the earliest expose’, but gives an idea of what precipitated a worldwide boycott by western consumers and sent the perfume companies into subterfuge and denial. On the bright side these reports also resulted in some excellent studies through the University of Addis Ababa, and ongoing efforts on behalf of the Ethiopian government to reform and modernize these practices.

Civet-farming, An Ethiopian Investigation-wspa-1998

 Our western need for ethical and cruelty free animal products came head to head with the beliefs, methods and traditions of Civet farmer families. We have been at a stalemate ever since. It has been a lose, lose situation. While chemical replacements for Civet absolute are available and used to varying degree in the perfume industry, they too have their shortcomings.  I hope a trend towards natural perfumery and chemical free lifestyles may lead us back to establishing ethical and sustainable sources for all our fragrant and herbal needs.

Sustainable-Utilisation-of-the-African-Civet-Civettictis-civetta-in-Ethiopia

 Regardless of government efforts, directives and incentives, it has been difficult for traditional Civet farmers to change their ways. Deeply ingrained traditions, societal and cultural norms and deep poverty in these communities all add to their inability to establish new and modern practices.  It has been challenging for local agencies and regional governments to facilitate and support farmers through a transition to modern methods. They haven’t given up, but could definitely use a little help and support.

New Humane traps and cages were developed and field tested by the Ministry of Agriculture, Center for Mechanization.
New Humane traps and cages were developed and field tested with Civet farmers by the Ministry of Agriculture, Center for Mechanization.  Some farmers do use them.

Due to our boycott of unethically produced Civet products, many traditional Civet farmers abandoned Civiculture to pursue less challenging  markets such as Coffee and Chaat. I don’t believe this really solved the problem.  There are still no winners here, not human and not animal. The Civets that are still farmed, supply a grey market in China and Korea, (I assume a backdoor to the large French Perfume companies who don’t want any direct link to unethical practices), and  likely do not enjoy their captivity to any greater degree as a result of our boycott. I believe we may have made things worse. We pointed out the problems, but we were not there with the needed solutions and support.

  Similar ethical issues are mirrored in Indonesia where captured Civets are kept in tiny cages and fed a diet of mainly coffee beans to excrete the very lucrative and lately famous Kopi Luwak Coffee. I haven’t studied this phenomenon in any great depth, but it appears to me it presents identical ethical issues around the treatment of the animals.  A very elusive animal, this “Ethical Civet”. My hope is, that if an ethical model can be developed for Ethiopia’s Civet farms, it can be duplicated, or legislated and enforced in Indonesia. Win, win. Win, win. Win. English: Kopi luwak, coffee seeds from faeces ...

Through our continued efforts the past years, our failures and successes, Professor  Dagne and I may have  an opportunity to initiate something that decades of western boycotts and  petitioning against animal cruelty have not been able to do. There is talk of setting up and operating a “Model Farm” that would involve both local and foreign interests. It’s only talk at this point, but I want to put it out there in the community, and see if there is in fact any real and tangible interest in ethical Civet products.

 

Etched Ox horn cup. One of two that have been used in this Civet farmers family for many generations. One is used to collect and the other to clean the fresh paste.
Etched Ox horn cup. One of two that have been used in this Civet farmers family for many generations. One is used to collect and the other to clean the fresh paste.

I believe we can do some good here, all of us. I believe that doing some good, is what is really called for. Our wild medicinals, aromatics, animals and plants are threatened all over the world. We have to each do what we can to preserve our natural bounty before it is too late.   I believe that greening and tending, healing the farthest reaches of our world is only as far as the mouse on our desk. A click on our phone.

I worry that Nature in Ethiopia is not doing too well, though it may not yet seem obvious. I worry we are losing the old growth forests all over our world, the havens for medicinal and aromatic plants, indigenous species, animals, insects and the Civets of our world.  I worry that  the green regenerative oh so fertile and womanly spirit of Ethiopia is slowly losing ground. That we will only notice our loss when it is too late. And it will be Our loss when it happens.

Needless to say, we all know there are many things in the world that need to change. Sometimes we wait for others to  change them, and sometimes, we see an opportunity to change them ourselves. None of this can happen without global community support. Without conscious consumerism and individual activism. Nothing will change without many voices speaking up. Without your voice.

  I did purchase a quantity of Civet paste this last trip. It is not an ethical Civet product, but, that being said, the one factor that will determine viability of change in the industry, is whether there is enough western interest in ethical Civet products. This is gauged by our willingness to financially invest in the concept of ethics and sustainability. It is our interest, expressed in our western currency that makes and shapes the world around us. If we can’t show them that we are offering more than our criticism or advice, there will be no incentive to develop ethical Civiculture in Ethiopia. Our boycott of Civet products has proven detrimental to all involved. It is time for a different approach to the problem. It is not going away on its own.
I am not talking about billion dollar corporations investing here, but about individual activism. You and I and many more like us that want to put in our vote on what kind of world reflects our values. What kind of world we want to see and manifest. The power of many individual voices and small purchases is absolutely world changing.
So, you and anyone you know that might want a say in rectifying this ethical stalemate, are invited to show the Ethiopian government, farmers and Civet industry, the world really, that we do care and are willing to do something about it.
I have priced the Civet paste at $10.00 a gram, on Parr with the lowest retail price I could find. Every gram sold is a statement that change is possible.
It is pure and high quality, authentic and genuine. It’s about as close as anyone can get to actually collecting paste from a Civet’s butt in person. Anyone who has tried to get real Civet paste knows it is not easy. Between adulterants, chemical and aromatic substitutes, fillers, fakes and unscrupulous middlemen, it can take years to find the real deal or discern the differences in quality.

Please support this project with your “likes”, shares or purchases, your comments or ratings. You can reblog or repost, or link back to it through your own blog or website, and please do pass it on to anyone you think might have an interest. If there is no interest, market or demand for an ethical alternative, no input from the public, it will not be possible, and in my opinion this unfortunate and sad situation will never change. Without our intervention, I believe we will all end up facing a great loss.

 You can also contact me directly at dnriegler@gmail.com

Let me know what you think.

Warmly

Dan

Caged civets in Vietnam

 

 

 

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Back Alley Boswellia or Frankincense Fantasy

A foray into native Ethiopian fragrant materials

I am past the worst of the jet lag. I think..

I was going to continue sharing my journey in chronological order, Dead Sea, Jerusalem then Ethiopia, but,,,, I had such a great time in Addis Ababa and came back with such amazing treasures and opportunities that I simply couldn’t keep it all under my hat. I am bursting to talk about my finds and the great luck that came my way. Three new and rare types of Frankincense. All native to Ethiopia and each distinctly unique. A supply of their distilled oils and the most heavenly essential oils of Opoponax and Palmarosa on their way here soon.

Boswellia Rivae Frankincense
Boswellia Rivae Frankincense Ethiopia 2013

The trip from Israel to Ethiopia was booked on the fly two days after we arrived in Israel, four days to get organized for it..

For the past couple of years I had researched and hoped one day to visit Ethiopia, make contact with farmers/collectors and suppliers of Civet paste, Myrrh and Frankincense, but until I bought the ticket, it was only a theory. A wisp of a dream that rose and wafted around in my mind with visions of visiting Frankincense trees in Yemen, Dragon’s Blood trees on Socrato island, and vendors sorting grades of fresh harvested Boswellia Carterii/Sacra Frankincense in Oman.

In 2012, while researching Frankincense chemistry and looking for reliable ways of distinguishing between the different types, I discovered the website of another “Apothecary” and teaching garden in Addis Ababa Ethiopia. Not only was there a teaching garden associated with the website, the person who ran the site seemed an accredited expert in Frankincense and African medicinal plants, made and sold herbal products from local plants as I, and was a distiller and supplier of essential oils from those local plants and oleo-resins. Wow!

After arriving in Israel and with only a few days notice, I let him know I would be in Addis Ababa, could we meet? The timing was tight, he had a local trip booked for that week, and was chairing an annual congress of the Chemical Society of Ethiopia. Very tight timing.

University of Addis Ababa
University of Addis Ababa. Grad students,(my babysitters), performing an extraction of Moringa seeds.

In short, I was his guest at the University of Addis Ababa for 2 days, His grad students expanded their social skills and their command of English by babysitting me, (poor guys, I kept disappearing ). I listened to some very interesting presentations on the development and uses of local plant and mineral resources from the perspectives of organic and inorganic chemistry. Most notably I spent time enjoying his laboratory where his students were doing an extraction of Moringa seed, preparing it for chemical analysis, and visiting the specimen gardens on the university grounds. Both these made me feel right at home. Running between laboratory and garden, that’s me!

Specimen Garden at the University of Addis Ababa
Specimen Garden at the University of Addis Ababa
Boswellia Papyrifera, Frankincense Tigray type
Boswellia Papyrifera, Frankincense Tigray type
Ethiopia 2013

Our time was limited, but we made the most of it, talking when we could and getting as many of our goals accomplished as our time would allow, while planning a few future projects together. His invitations to dinner at his home where I met his talented wife, Chemist and business partner, were both gracious and productive. It seems quite true that Ethiopians are a very warm, hospitable and generous people based on my week long experiences.

We visited a grassroots resin “supplier” in the the “Mercado”, ( Africa’s largest outdoor market), after dusk. When it was quiet enough so one could actually drive and walk the rocky unpaved roads between the bustling people of the market without being knocked down or running over someone selling on the road, and dark enough so no one would notice the tourist in the car and decide to multiply the price of resins astronomically. This is unfortunately the norm. It is beyond haggling or dickering as in the Mediterranean, where you have a reasonable chance to haggle and actually get a good price even if you are a tourist. There are simply two different price structures, tourist and negotiable.

Buying Frankincense at the Mercado in Addis Ababa.
Buying Frankincense at the Mercado in Addis Ababa. Felt like a back alley drug deal.

It felt more like a drug deal in a dark alley. Samples covertly sent back and forth to be approved by me in the dark car and five kilo bags put in the trunk. But boy it was worth it! Fresh fragrant Frankincense resins, each more distinguished than the next.

  • Boswellia Papyrifera Frankincense is, I believe, the Tigray type. From the North of the country. Used by all Ethiopians in their daily coffee ceremonies throughout the country and purchased in bulk by the church. The essential oil is woody & balsamic with a sweet, haunting feeling, reminiscent of ancient souks and sacred stone churches, with a citrus note that would bridge to other citrus notes perfectly.
  • Boswellia Rivae Frankincense is from the Ogaden region in the south east and by far the most complex in its scent. It reaches in and moves you from bottom to top.This oil and that of the Neglecta would make precious additions to any perfumers collection. Not true,, they all would!
  • Boswellia Neglecta Frankincense, (I neglected to ask which region it was from), has a beautiful, creamy rich middle note with a warm balsamic nutty base , yumm. I believe it got its name from not getting classified till much later than the others. Neglected. I will have to research that further. Again, what a unique incense Neglecta makes, and the essential oil is so different than the Boswellia Serrata and Sacra we are all so used to.

All in all, three really unique, unusual and lovely types of Frankincense. Mainly used locally for medicine and ceremony, but as yet not fully recognized or utilized for their broader applications in perfume, cosmetics and mainstream herbal medicine. (I see a face lift for my Frankincense Anti aging creme!)

My gracious Host Professor Ermias Dagne & myself. Addis Ababa 2013
My gracious Host Professor Ermias Dagne & myself. Addis Ababa 2013

So,,, I now have a few Kilos of each resin to experiment with, maybe a little to sell, and a few liters of essential oils being distilled and packaged for shipment soon.

I feel very lucky. Blessed. We established some future goals of working together over the next few months to experiment in both our labs, to explore ways we could add value to Ethiopian resources and products, ways we could work together for our mutual benefit while helping a developing country develop. I felt inspired and exited by the creative possibilities bubbling in my brain. We discovered between us we could meet goals we both have had for a while that pertain to improving the viability of refining Civet products. in Ethiopia.

A civet in Gabon

I have been trying to establish a reliable Civet connection in Ethiopia for years. It seems I may have a chance to not only visit a traditional Civet farmer in person, but could be part of the process of analysis, extraction, refinement and marketing of the finished product, (Civetone), which till now was controlled by large foreign companies, while the Ethiopian economy received the minimum benefit in the chain of commerce, supplying only the raw product at the lowest relative price. At the very bottom of the ladder. Feels like a win, win, win situation. My favourite.