Luke Dalla Bona, a former Sault resident currently living and working in Ecuador, has a plan to help a small South American community prosper by getting a completely natural product on the market.
Dalla Bona lives in the village of Agua Blanca, a community of 300 people.
“It’s five minutes from the Pacific Ocean. There aren’t too many snow shovels around here,” he chuckled, speaking to SooToday.
A magnitude 7.8 earthquake in coastal Ecuador last year severely affected the village’s tourism business.
“They get about 20,000 visitors a year coming in off the highway to visit the archaeological ruins that are here, to visit the museum and go swimming in the lagoon.”
After the earthquake took a painful bite out of Agua Blanca’s tourism revenue, the villagers, Dalla Bona said, decided to pursue bottling of natural shampoo, using the surrounding forest as a resource.
“The barbasco trees produce a nut twice yearly, and the seed inside the nut, if you pick it fresh and squeeze it, it produces a liquid. Add some water to it and you have a detergent, perfectly organic and there are thousands of the trees within a couple of miles of Agua Blanca.”
“Collecting it twice a year is really just a simple issue of going around and picking the nuts up off the forest floor.”
“There’s no need to plant, there’s no waiting five years for trees to grow and produce seeds, the raw material is already there producing,” Dalla Bona said.
“It’s cool, I’ve used the shampoo myself to wash my hair. It has a slight fruity odour to it but essentially it’s a neutral odour, it’s 100 per cent organic and the only thing you add to it is water.”
“The people here have been using this themselves as a natural shampoo for thousands of years, so somebody at one of the meetings said ‘hey, why don’t we make a product out of this shampoo which we’ve used all along?’”
Describing the villagers as having good business sense, Dalla Bona said all the community needs is the financial backing to get a bottling facility started.
“All that’s needed is a building to do the work in, a little bit of machinery to process the nuts by cracking them and squeezing the juice out of them, and then some machinery to put everything into bottles and put the labels on.”
Dalla Bona said the community needs $5,000 to renovate an existing building with such things as stainless steel counters, $5,000 for the nut-processing equipment and another $5,000 for government permits, bottles, labels, boxes and other items necessary for shipping ($15,000 in total, in U.S. dollars).
“In Canadian terms, you could put this on your credit card. But for the folks down here, it’s an impossible amount of money. They really don’t have a surplus, they don’t generate enough profit from the archaeological museum that’s here.”
Dalla Bona said small Indigenous communities like Agua Blanca with small projects “don’t even get on the radar (when applying for funding to the government of Ecuador).”
Ecuador, he said, is mainly occupied with oil, and with today’s oil prices, the government is counting its pennies.
“It just doesn’t have the visibility and importance for this government, so it (the funding application) isn’t moving anywhere. No one has said ’no,’ but no one is saying ‘yes.’”
A community economic project such as this would not qualify for Canadian foreign aid funding either.
Dalla Bona feels he could probably qualify personally for Canadian business loans, but he said “I don’t want to own the community’s business.”
“It’s their community, it’s their business, I’m willing to help them but I’m already doing the archaeology project with the community.”
That said, Dalla Bona has started a GoFundMe campaign for the Agua Blanca Organic Shampoo Project, with the community’s blessing, to help the villagers turn nut liquid into American dollars.
“If you get 1,500 people to donate $10 each, there’s your $15,000.”
Dalla Bona is encouraging people to check out the project through the Comunidad Agua Blanca Facebook page, then donate through GoFundMe.
The money will indeed go to the community, Dalla Bona said.
“I will not benefit in any way, I will feel good knowing the community is doing well,” said Dalla Bona, who said he is devoting his professional time to archaeological tourism, studying the Agua Blanca area, where a thriving civilization once stood.
Dalla Bona, a Windsor, Ont. native, lived and worked in Sault Ste. Marie as a Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry archaeologist beginning in 1995, and also owned a local graphic design company.
In 2012 he relocated to Toronto before moving to Ecuador in 2015.
“Ecuador’s a pretty attractive place for a number of reasons, like a pretty stable economy and government, and it uses the American dollar, so there’s not the kind of inflation here like there is in other places, and it’s generally less expensive to live here than it is in Canada.”
Once the shampoo project (hopefully) becomes a reality, Dalla Bona said the shampoo would be sold to neighbouring communities and hotels, then nationally in Ecuador, then to those who love natural products worldwide.