Share the struggle
By 2015 we had a thriving tree-planting movement spreading across Pemba and were keenly pursuing other ventures. Anything that would keep up the momentum and help grow the island’s green economy further was now fair game. Our Pemban colleagues branched out to help farmers plant rows of fruit and timber trees alongside their annual crops. This popular ‘agroforestry’ program offered a bridge to even deeper ecological modelling on the farm landscape. In other words, after sitting on the shelf for five years it looked like the timing was finally right to pilot the Spice Forest idea.
Our team set the intention and started sharing the idea of growing spice like a forest in Pemba. Picture a jungle of trees and vines all producing edible spices – things like cinnamon, black pepper, cloves, cardamom – and you get the idea.
We were hoping to gain insight from similar efforts around the world. But nearly a year went by and absolutely nothing came back. I was left thinking we would have to build this new agroecological system basically on our own; a daunting task which made me question the future of the project.
We were once again weighing the journey, and close to pulling back, when we finally got our big break. A contact in the permaculture world learned about the Spice Forest vision and our struggles, and put us in touch with Lush Ltd.
Based in England with outlets around the world, Lush is a cosmetics company at the forefront of a movement beyond sustainability and toward regenerative business practices. Rather than just minimizing the negative impacts of its operations, Lush is building supply chains that create positive change from one end to the other. And the company has established a global investment fund backed by a passionate team of experts to make it happen.
Just as we were trying to raise the bar on ecological production in Pemba, Lush was raising the bar on ethical sourcing and green business practices. Because many of the ingredients that Lush uses for its products are spice crops that grow well in forest-like settings there was a clear opportunity for collaboration. We had our first partner and it happened to be an industry leader.
We didn’t get exactly what we were looking for when we broadcast our project to the world – but we got something even better. Being honest about the struggles and sharing the innovation process opens the door to serendipitous connections, sometimes leading to unanticipated breakthroughs.
Innovation is a living process
With encouragement and seed funding from Lush our team is now actively prototyping the Spice Forest at our R&D site and on farms across Pemba. Another link in the innovation chain has been secured. There remains one final stretch in the road though – diffusion and adoption – and this promises to be the most challenging yet.
Without strong buy-in from farmers and decision-makers throughout Pemba the Spice Forest project will never make a significant contribution to the local ecology and economy. The concept might be technically sound and there might be a strong market for the produce, but without mobilizing key players to refine it and bring it to scale we will fall short of the mark. There is a vital cultural element to innovation which can’t be prescribed. It has to be nurtured like a living thing.
It’s at times like these that I appreciate how much Forests Intl. relies on our Pemban colleagues. They have the technical know-how to innovate successfully, and the cultural awareness necessary to build partnerships with farmers in Pemba all while navigating the complex politics of spice trading. If the Spice Forest idea survives this last and most arduous mile on the innovation path it will be because of their leadership. Stay tuned.
Innovation is not all cogs and wheels. Technical details and strategy are important, but it’s culture and people that ultimately determine success.
Words by Daimen Hardie and photos by Zach Melanson. Find the original publication here.
To get involved or learn more please visit www.forestsinternational.org