#18 ep1.1_Action Needed Toward Iboga Sustainability_Yann Guignon
Hey everyone. I just got off the phone with Yann Guignon, the founder and co-director (along with David Nassim) of Blessings of the Forest (BOTF), a nonprofit organization dedicated to iboga sustainability, preservation, and conservation. BOTF is a registered social enterprise in the United Kingdom and an NGO in Gabon. All donated money goes to local communities in Gabon and they promote the fair trade of iboga. BOTF focuses activities around sustainability, fair trade, keeping the link between nature and culture, traditional culture around iboga, and the cultural heritage around iboga and other plants and animals that have a direct impact on iboga’s ecosystem and ability to thrive. Regarding the fair trade of iboga, see the Nagoya Protocol for more information.
Yann has blessed Iboganautics as my first guest. I cannot think of anyone more important in the orbit of iboga, who for many years has been an advocate of the traditions surrounding it, and that iboga is a valuable cultural and spiritual resource, not just for the Gabonese, but for all humans. I knew that if I wanted to start a podcast about iboga, the first message, the first guest, must be someone and/or a charitable entity that fights for iboga’s survival.
People like Yann and his colleagues at BOTF persevere day in and day out to make sure iboga survives these pressing times and that it marches on with humans into the future. I learned today that BOTF has an annual budget of about $10,000. Are you kidding me? That’s ridiculous. Imagine what they could do with one hundred times that amount? Ok, so a million bucks, that’s the goal.
How to get a million bucks? There are at least three ways to get that kind of money. First, banks. When the famous American bank robber named Willie Sutton asked why he robbed banks, he said, “Because that’s where the money is” (see also: Sutton’s law). Second, rich people. As Yann told me, rich people want a return on their investment, that is to say, what do they get out of it? How about investing in a cultural and spiritual resource that might not have a financial return on investment, but instead might help many people with their drug addictions and self-development in addition to, and more importantly in my opinion, preserving ancient Bwiti traditions that incorporate iboga into their religious practices? As Yann said, we shouldn’t look at parting with our cash as an “investment” but rather see it as a “donation.” Which brings me to the third way that BOTF can get one million dollars: donations. Let’s not rely on rich people to save the day. It’s you and I and other small donors that can make a difference. I’m reminded of some democratic presidential candidates in the United States that earn most of their campaign contributions from small donors. If 100,000 people pitched in $10, we have our million bucks. Listen to the podcast episode to learn more about what Yann says how he’d use the money for his iboga sustainability projects.
Originally, I thought that iboga was under threat of extinction; rather, it’s under threat in the public domain. For example, people buy up private land where iboga grows and thrives naturally, in effect not allowing access to locals including Bwiti shamans to gather iboga tree products as they have done for hundreds or thousands of years to be used in spiritual, medicinal, and other cultural contexts.
I can speak about iboga forever. No, really, ask my friends. However, Yann and I had to cut our conversation at some point. I’d love to bring him back on the Iboganautics podcast one day. Until then, here are some of the thoughts I had while we spoke and some unused questions I had for him.
Point 1: Since the exportation of iboga has been halted, to what degree can iboga be consumed in Gabon? For example, if iboga can only be consumed legally in Gabon, then, in theory many Westerners (e.g. non-Gabonese people) could come to Gabon to participate in an iboga ceremony. What are the current restrictions or limitations for locals and foreigners taking iboga? I would have liked to know more about whether iboga can be consumed legally in Gabon; the point is: one must go to Gabon. I get it, there is a total ban on iboga exportation, but can anyone from America or Europe fly down to Gabon to consume the substance at its source? Is there already or will there be an eco-psychedelic-tourism market for rich Westerners wanting to partake in this experience as we have seen with ayahuasca in South America? Is Gabon ready for such a phenomenon and is there enough iboga to go around? I suppose the very high price of plane tickets to Gabon will deter many people from going there, in addition to irrational fears pertaining to mosquitos and crime, as Yann told me. Even so, if people are desperate, they will find a way to get there, or purchase iboga on the black market.
Point 2: I wanted to know more about iboga poachers. Who are they; do they understand the consequences of their actions; do they know they’re pillaging such a special resource to the point of not respecting iboga sustainability; are they mafia and don’t give a shit; are they and their families so hungry that they justify their actions to themselves? Perhaps some of them are not even Gabonese, in which case they wouldn’t care. I heard Yann speak on Alex’s podcast, Natural Born Alchemist (see below for link), where he said that many poachers cross the border from Cameroon. Therefore, we can assume that whomever is crossing the border to pillage iboga from its source does not care about iboga sustainability or the people that traditionally use it.
Point 3: If Gabon knows how important iboga is, because of BOTF’s work, why hasn’t the Gabonese government given more (financial) support to help the current situation iboga faces? By investing in research, plantations/production, and education about iboga-related issues, the country as a whole will undoubtedly make more money through iboga tourism, exports, scholars taking up residence in Gabon to research and teach about it, and so on.
Yann explained to me that allocating resources to protect iboga is not a top priority for the Gabonese government; they have bigger and more pressing issues to deal with. Second, many locals do not have an agriculture mentality like Westerners do, that is to say, to plan and plant for the future. Locals have a very immediate, living-in-the-moment kind of mentality, therefore, planting iboga trees and waiting 5-10+ years to harvest them is outside of their culture, their way of being. Third, the Gabonese are mostly Christian nowadays, which means many people have “demonized” the Bwiti and their iboga-inspired practices in the past and present, and consider them to be witchcraft.
Point 4: The Global Ibogaine Therapy Alliance (Accessed February 25, 2020, https://www.ibogainealliance.org/iboga/sustainability/) references Yann’s report regarding the “seven primary factors contributing to a reduction in the supply of wild iboga that is being witnessed in Gabon.” One of these factors is urbanization: “30 years ago, 20% of the population of Gabon was urban. Today, urbanites account for 85-90% of Gabon’s 1.6 million person population now lives in urban environments. This results in increase of land prices, and security costs, making planting difficult.” Wouldn’t an increase in urban living provide more open land to plant iboga trees? I’m not heavily criticizing here, I’m simply curious why urbanization would decrease the supply of wild iboga production. Wild and domesticated iboga production should go up, not down, if more people moved from the countryside to cities.
In actuality, 80% of a population of 2 million Gabonese are urbanites as of today, according to Yann. In response to my question why there wouldn’t be more space to grow iboga trees because the majority of people live in urban areas, Yann said that big Chinese companies among others are deforesting the country in addition to extracting other natural resources such as iron, manganese, uranium, gold, and diamonds. So, while more people live in cities, the amount of old forests, iboga’s natural habitat, are under threat because there is less space for it to grow as well as the occurrence of illegal poaching.
Point 5: Continued climate change will likely negatively affect Gabon’s climate so much that it won’t be possible or will be more difficult for iboga to thrive as before. Are there efforts to produce iboga in other countries with similar climate and soil? Yann touched on this by saying there are efforts to grow iboga trees in Costa Rica, Mexico, and Brazil. We won’t know how potent their ibogaine and other alkaloid counts will be until they’re ready for harvest. But I think this is something to think about more. I read somewhere that wine grapes from Italy and Spain are now being grown in France because the climate is changing so quickly. Winters in northern European countries are less severe than before. The climate is changing. This leads to my next concern…
Point 6: I wanted to know more about Yann’s plans for creating an iboga seed bank. This reminded me of Norway’s Svalbard Global Seed Vault, a doomsday “safe” that houses many of the world’s seeds (just in case). Good idea. I hope we don’t need to rely on it to repopulate the world’s plant life. Could/should the Gabonese government make a deposit in the Svalbard vault for safekeeping? It would be safe up there with all the other countries’ seeds. Additionally, it would be unwise to keep all your “eggs in one basket,” so to speak; therefore, we should have one or two other iboga seed vaults in the world for safekeeping.
Regarding the two points I raise above, Yann informed me that iboga cannot survive in temperatures under 7° C and over 37° C. Other factors for optimal growing conditions include: the iboga tree needs lots of water; and chemicals from surrounding trees such as the okoume tree (similar to a pine tree) wherefrom ants transport alkaloid extracts to the iboga tree and bees help with iboga’s reproduction through pollination, all contribute to iboga’s natural environment. I imagine that altering or annulling one of the above-mentioned, unmentioned, or unknown factors in any way will not be favorable to iboga’s future. I also wonder whether the iboga tree and its related botanical cousins are the product of previous climate change thousands of years ago. With this said, could the current iboga tree mutate or evolve into another species, either more or less psychoactively potent? Personally, I like the iboga experience the way it is, so let’s do our best to maintain a good thing while we got it.
Point 7: How much should I donate to BOTF if I take iboga in Gabon or abroad? For example, would sponsoring one iboga tree be equivalent to taking iboga once, twice, thrice or more times? In other words, what is my debt to the environment by taking iboga and what must I do to repay that debt; how much money should I pay back? How much resources (e.g. human labor, water, soil nutrients, caretaking, etc.) — calculated into money — go into producing one iboga tree? And then how much on top of that breakeven point should I give to ensure there is enough iboga for increased production, my future experiences, and for future users?
The main point from Yann and I’s conversation is that iboga sustainability cannot be done alone. There must be an organization for people to rally around. Ok, we have Blessings of the Forest, check! However, BOTF is a nonprofit, they don’t even get paid for the work they’re doing. The least we can do from our comfortable vantage points in the West, especially if you’ve taken iboga, is to make regular donations to iboga sustainability efforts. Give money to BOTF and they’ll do the rest, and a good job by the looks of it. I have sponsored one tree in addition to a separate small donation this year and intend to donate more each year. I pledge my support to them both financially and in friendship to make sure iboga does not go extinct, to increase iboga reserves in the public domain, and for us to discover what secrets or mysteries it has that we might be able to unlock one day.
For more information:
Natural Born Alchemist (Alex’s podcast)