I don’t know if it’s on your radar yet, but red palm oil only recently flowed into my consciousness. Not that it doesn’t have a history reaching back 5,000 years or more—it was found in an Egyptian tomb dating back to 3000 BCE. And it has been a staple of home cooking in Africa for centuries. In more recent times, it has been used as an industrial lubricant and as a basis for a multitude of cleansing and beauty products.
Red palm oil has proven to have multiple health benefits as well. An article in the NIH Library of Medicine notes that “It has been shown that dietary red palm oil … promotes the efficient utilization of nutrients … and improves immune function.”
But you will also find a bit of controversy surrounding red palm oil. Like so many beneficial gifts from nature, its growth, harvesting, and production for commercial products have threatened the environment through deforestation and the resulting harm to the climate, indigenous populations, and endangered species.
Spotting a Need in the Marketplace
Juka Ceesay wants to fix all that with Juka’s Organic Co. Her mission is complex and caring. She seeks to offer a suite of healthful West African products, to support and encourage women in small West African villages, and to keep the traditional landscape intact.
It all began with red palm oil, and blossomed from there. “Growing up, we ate very healthy at my house. This convinced me that most of our health depends on the food we eat and how we take care of our bodies, minds, each other, and our environment,” says Ceesay.
She felt it was her privilege to introduce people to the healthy pleasures of African products, something that was missing in the United States. “When you go to a grocery store you often see an ethnic aisle, with Asian and Mexican and Middle Eastern products, but never African products. Yet Africa has so many great health and natural products that the world could benefit from; and it would also help eliminate or reduce poverty in the continent.”
Tapping Natural Talents & Resources
This idea tied into Ceesay’s other passions. Working with women in small villages and sourcing palm oil the way it’s been done for centuries enabled her to offer a stable income and financial independence to families in the region. “It is truly humbling every time I’m able to visit our women partners, their praises and songs of gratitude melt my heart. They have so much to offer to the world; they just need the opportunity to do it with dignity,” she says.
By sourcing only from small family holdings, Juka’s Organic Co. can help retain and protect the existing landscape. “It is to our benefit as Africans to stand against deforestation, because wildlife and rainforests are what make Africa unique and special,” says Ceesay.
Juka’s stable of products now ranges from culinary to cleansing to beauty, but they all share the same purpose. “What I love the most in this journey is the lives we touch in the process,” says Ceesay. “My dream is to work with hundreds of villages throughout Africa
to bring the naturally healthy foods they offer to the American mainstream.”