Special Oils from Ethiopia: Rich Plant Products from Bioreserves
Interview with Feven Tsehaye
founder and CEO of Tchakka Origins in Ethiopia
Tchakka Origins produces essential and fatty oils as well as herbs and flowers for the cosmetics industry. What makes your products unique?
Our focus is on the indigenous plant species of Ethiopia and we take particular pride in the originality and high quality of our herbal products. Indigenous plants are not cultivated in monocultures, but rather grown in biosphere reserves. That’s why we source our raw materials from several of Ethiopia’s biosphere reserves – Kaffa, Greater Bale and Sheka. These are regions with high biodiversity, where plants grow in very nutrient-rich soils, flourish well and stand out for their particularly diverse constituents.
How exactly does this work? Is farming even possible in biosphere reserves?
Tchakka Origins works with small farmers who use the outer areas of the biosphere reserves for cultivation. Of course, the centre of a reserve is protected from any interference and no agriculture is allowed in the surrounding buffer zone either. Even in what is known as the transition zone, where our partners operate, there are strict conditions and work must be done according to the rules of agroforestry. This ensures that forests are maintained and the trees and bushes protect the natural ecosystem. At the same time, economic use helps to preserve biodiversity. The farmers protect the plants and secure their survival because they understand how this benefits them. And this means that they are able to earn a living in these regions.
The translation of “Tchakka” is forest. So our company name “Tchakka Origins” already says what makes us special: we use the special resources from the forest regions of Ethiopia and find new uses for indigenous plants.
Can you give some examples of specific Ethiopian plants that you process?
Let’s start with Ethiopia’s best-known product: coffee. Ethiopia – or rather the Kaffa region - is the birthplace of coffee and the beans we process come from the biosphere reserve in Kaffa. Coffee grows wild there too, but we use the beans cultivated by small farmers. These are Arabica beans that are harvested by hand and which we also use to produce coffee oil. The oil is made from roasted beans and smells like roasted coffee. It is a rich source of palmitic acid.
Another good example is what is known as Ethiopian cardamon, Aframomum corrorima – also called false cardamon. Korarima is a specific species of the ginger family and grows as an indigenous plant in the coffee forests of Ethiopia. Compared to common cardamon varieties korarima has a spicier and sharper aroma. Our cardamon comes from the Kaffa biosphere reserve. We use Ethiopian cardamon to produce essential oil and also offer it dried. It is rich in aromatic substances and a good source of antioxidants.
Black cumin is often associated with Egypt, but it is also native to Ethiopia and is known there as “Black Magique”. It is a popular spice in many countries and intensifies the aroma of dishes. A fatty oil can also be obtained from black cumin. We use black cumin from the biosphere reserve Greater Bale and our black cumin stands out for its particularly high content of the fatty acid thymoquinone.
How are these indigenous species used in cosmetic products and how do the products benefit from this natural and high-quality raw material?
From the coffee beans we extract a very high-quality fatty oil by cold pressing. Thanks to its high content of palmitic acid and phytosterols, it is a good moisturiser for the skin. The phytosterols in coffee oil also have an anti-inflammatory effect, which makes coffee oil very suitable for sensitive skin too. In addition, the roasted oil has a high sun protection factor, so that it is also used for sun protection products.
Black cumin also yields a fatty oil by cold pressing. This dark golden-coloured oil is high in palmitic, stearic, oleic and linoleic acids. In addition, black cumin oil is rich in essential amino acids, vitamins of the B-complex as well as vitamins A, C, D and E. Its composition means that the oil provides skin with moisture and supports cell renewal. Black cumin oil is therefore often used for chronic skin diseases. Our oil is mainly used in hair products and skin care.
The dried seeds of Ethiopian cardamon have a high content of 1.8 cineole, or eucalyptol, and (E)-nerolidol. By steam distillation of the seeds we obtain a spicy-hot as well as fresh and lemony scented oil. The oil has antiseptic properties and can minimise the risk of superficial inflammation. It is used mainly in saunas or steam baths, but can also be used in diffusers to create a pleasant room fragrance.
How do you ensure the quality of the raw material?
We work very closely with around 300 small farmers. This number is growing steadily and many of our partners are women. We are a company founded and run by women and we consciously promote women working in agriculture. They are good farmers and reliable partners. Our field representatives, who all have agricultural qualifications, are in regular contact on site and train the farmers in small groups. In addition, Tchakka Origins organises courses on agricultural practices that are taught by external experts. High quality is ensured not only by the purchasing sector and a detailed checklist but also by our traceability system.
What quality criteria do you consider in the further processing?
The most important thing is really the quality of the plant material we process. For the production of essential oils we rely exclusively on steam distillation. The fatty oil is cold-pressed and filtered and this gentle processing without additives ensures that all valuable plant constituents are preserved.
Are you already active on the European market?
We are currently already supplying customers in the UK, Spain and France. And we hope to continue to expand our customer base. At the end of March we attended the international trade fair „in-cosmetics“ in Barcelona and held promising discussions with European buyers. This direct and personal contact with importers is very important for us to explain our portfolio, promote indigenous plants from Ethiopia and, above all, build trust.
Our focus at first was on the local market, but with the support of the Import Promotion Desk (IPD) trade promotion initiative we are now ready to supply partners in the EU market as well. IPD experts have trained us in the requirements and quality standards of the European market and put us in touch with interested importers at trade fairs such as „in-cosmetics“. And now, step by step, we are expanding our offer. This applies to our range of products, but also our capacities. There are already plans to invest in new mills for cold pressing and we are also currently working on obtaining certification in line with ISO 22000.