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Whether in Kenya, Ethiopia, India, Afghanistan, Argentina or Turkey - WALA is building long-term, trusting partnerships with the help of its subsidiary naturamus.
The procurement pros
At WALA, procurement is a real challenge. That’s because manufacturing WALA remedies and Dr. Hauschka cosmetics calls for vibrant raw materials that have been carefully harvested or processed. The shopping list includes everything that can’t grow in the company’s own Demeter garden or biodynamic fields, such as macadamia nuts, mangos, Damascus roses, castor seeds and castor seed oil, and wax. WALA founded its own subsidiary, naturamus GmbH, to handle the process of ticking things off this list. naturamus does not just engage in global procurement: it sometimes invests years until a project partner can provide the desired raw materials in the quality required.
‘Being connected to the whole world is a tradition at WALA.’
Christine Ellinger, naturamus
Who does this kind of job?
At naturamus, agricultural scientists, procurement specialists, food technologists and chemists – both men and women – work hand in hand. They know how to recognise top-quality products and how to optimise manufacturing processes. They are interested in fair trade and in creating value in an eco-friendly way. And they see themselves as responsible for finding solutions, as illustrated by the case of castor oil.
Generally, a shortage is what gets the ball rolling: for a long time, it was simply not possible to buy certified organic castor oil. So, back in 2005, naturamus’s buyer Christine Ellinger reached out to her contacts in India. She was put in touch with a few farmers already engaged in organic agriculture, and with Nanalal Satra, who operates an oil mill. It was the start of a long-standing partnership that first focused on overcoming the hurdles to acquiring organic certification and then expanded to supporting other farmers with the move to organic agriculture. To achieve this, they needed both expertise and conviction: the company’s Indian business partners initially viewed the mandatory organic inspections as a sign of mistrust and almost called a halt to the whole operation. Ellinger was able to serve as a mediator because their collaboration had been shaped by trust from the very beginning. ‘At some point, the first container of certified organic castor oil landed on our doorstep – I was so excited!’ she remembers.
Photo: Fuhrmann Argentina / naturamus
The benefits are always mutual
Soon, Nanalal Satra also came to Germany in person and Christine Ellinger travelled across the country with him so he could acquire even more business contacts. naturamus is always keen for its partners to undergo independent development, as it benefits both parties: producers remain autonomous and innovative, while WALA gains long-term sources and partners who can also be involved in follow-up projects. Nanalal Satra, for example, has expanded his product range to include organic mangos, opened an organic shop and entered into a collaboration with Gujarat University, which is now offering courses on organic farming. As you can see, the initial contact continues to bear fruit for a long time, truly changing lives on the ground. Fair for Life is an example of this.
‘We don’t just focus on what we need. We want to encourage organic farming all around the world and support our partners’ independence.’
Christine Ellinger, naturamus
Demonstrating how fair a partnership can be
Mandatory purchase and fair prices should be a given – and for naturamus, they are. The WALA subsidiary counts on Fair for Life to ensure social standards are also taken into account. This seal regulates working hours and conditions, includes medical care and pays into a fund that enables people to invest in their projects. Several naturamus partners have now undergone certification. Preparing for the audits is demanding and takes a lot of paperwork – Nanalal Satra is far from the only partner to have torn his hair out over them – so naturamus helps out. A look at the situation in Turkey illustrates that this both encompasses traditional standards and offers a constant source of new challenges. There, refugees look for work as seasonal harvest workers, where they might find themselves on the rose farm run by the Aydin family, one of WALA’s first partner projects. naturamus collaborates with an NGO on the ground to ensure children are looked after to a good standard, and are not left on their own or coerced into working. This also falls under the umbrella of project consulting: always looking at what partners need, getting other people involved when required and providing financing for their work. Demeter consulting is another example of this.
‘Our partners can earn higher prices if they have a Fair for Life or Demeter seal. This motivates them, of course, but long-term partnerships and purchase guarantees are no less appealing. COVID has shown just how important they are.’
Peter Schmich, naturamus
How do you become a Demeter business?
The Aydins’ company is a good example of this, too. Why? Because a Demeter consultant helped them to start farming their Damascus roses biodynamically. WALA dealt with all the arrangements, the consultant’s fee and the travel costs. This meant that there was always an expert to hand if the Aydins had questions about pests, handling compost or what to do when all the roses at one of their locations suffered from frostbite over the course of a single night. Now, the family are experts themselves and provide advice on other projects, such as a rose farm in the highlands of Ethiopia. Peter Schmich from naturamus summarises what he’s observed in the partnerships: ‘At the end of the day, everyone learns something.’
TEXT: Anne Mikus