Hilaire Kouakou: « With medicinal plants, Africa has the potential to develop a useful activity that creates wealth and jobs.

Stake: to show how Africa's natural heritage can play a role in the welfare and health sector and thus be a remarkable generator of employment and wealth.
Knowledge of the medicinal virtues of plants is part of the African cultural heritage. It is estimated that at least 50% of the medicines prescribed today are of plant origin. Nearly all the active agents that make them up have been discovered through ethnobotanical observations and have already proved their effectiveness in conventional medicine. However, knowledge about these plants is now declining. However, as recent events have shown, it is more necessary than ever to identify these medicinal species and examine their biological activity in the search for new substances. The Tatufarma Ethnobotanical Centre in Côte d’Ivoire was set up with the aim of enhancing this heritage and pooling skills around research and raising awareness of the virtues of plants. Interview.
Ressources Magazine: Can you introduce us to the Tatufarma project?

Hilaire Kouakou: Tatufarma is an integrated plant-based well-being development project led by a group of African entrepreneurs whom I represent. It consists of developing health initiatives using medicinal plants, mainly from Africa, but also from elsewhere. This project has several dimensions: social, environmental, scientific and educational. Social because Tatufarma wants to provide jobs and skills in Africa; environmental because its heart will consist of a gigantic botanical garden of medicinal plants extending over 300 hectares in N’Ngattadolikro (Tiébissou prefecture), divided into 6 distinct zones representing the 5 continents (according to the model used by the UN : Africa, Europe, Asia, Oceania, North America, Central and South America); scientific, because this area will include a research centre on plants, their active ingredients, their therapeutic properties, etc. and finally educational, since we will develop partnerships with African and international universities, but also with Ivorian schools for tourist and visiting tours to make children aware of the virtues of plants.

R. M.: When did this project come into being and at what stage of its development are you at today?

Hilaire Kouakou: The Tatufarma project was initiated a year and a half ago. The first step – necessary to ensure its sustainability – was to secure land tenure, which has now been completed. We are currently working with landscape designers (layout of the space) and architects (construction of the centre), and we have launched several experimental nurseries for certain medicinal plants, including artemisia and centella, some citrus fruits (lemon, grapefruit…), eucalyptus, palm and coconut trees. Concerning the educational aspect, we plan to set up the largest library in the world dedicated to health through plants. This library will not only include scientific works, but will cover the broadest possible spectrum, including all works closely or remotely related to the plant world. As Tatufarma is a project based on the collaborative model, we are going to call upon all people of good will who are interested in this theme and wish to contribute in one way or another, so that our centre becomes a reference repository in terms of documentation on plants. What we are striving to build is a platform accessible to all researchers who wish to come and study plants, and which the general public will also be able to come and visit. Our first circle of researchers is that of academic partners, through alliances formed with the various departments of botany and biology of universities around the world. With the possibility of carrying out residencies on site, they will be able to carry out experiments with us in terms of dosage, posology, etc. This is an added value that we would like to highlight, with the fact that our botanical garden will allow us to save the cost of travelling around the world to see this or that plant in the Amazon or Morocco. For the moment, our team is made up of a landscape gardener, two architects, specialists in hydrogeology, a project manager, workers and a developer. We are also in discussions with several financial partners and investment funds that believe in our project.

R. M. : What motivated your decision to enter this sector?

Hilaire Kouakou: On a personal level, I come from a family that has always been immersed in the environment of plants and flowers. In terms of business opportunities, and with the boom we’ve seen in recent years in the health and well-being sectors, I’m convinced that it’s a vector for wealth creation that is set to become very important. For me, the development of medicinal plants represents a real asset for the development and attractiveness of the continent and the country, and has the potential to make Côte d’Ivoire and its centers a real home of soft power in terms of well-being.

R. M.: What are the difficulties you have encountered in the implementation of this project?

Hilaire Kouakou: The first was securing land tenure, which is the basis of Tatufarma’s success. It was a matter of implementing all the necessary administrative steps to avoid any interpretation that could lead to unfortunate amalgamations. Another obstacle in the implementation of the project was the phytosanitary regulations governing the exchange of seeds: it was necessary to ensure that plants that could disrupt the ecosystem were not introduced into the country. We are working to obtain the necessary authorizations and are proceeding on a piecemeal basis, focusing first on the essentials.

R. M.: How do you feel about recent events and the South-South solidarity built around Covid-Organics, an artemisia-based drug produced by Madagascar and marketed by its president?

Hilaire Kouakou: I am a strong supporter of artemisia, and Tatufarma has an artemisia nursery, which is one of the first experimental plantations we have deployed. I consume it myself, and I firmly believe that it is a plant that has health benefits, but I think that we need to take scientific research a little further, and it is good that western countries are showing medical interest in the subject.