In this time and age where fast foods and products with loads of preservatives are prevalent, no thanks to the fast-paced life we live in, there are chances you can still eat healthy. HAPPENINGS MAGAZINE correspondents, Odunayo Adeneye & Kikelomo Onigbanjo spoke with the Managing Partner of A NEW EARTH(Organic & Eco-living store), Layan Moukarim, a health-coach and an organic-living enthusiast, and she shed more light on the subject matter-ORGANIC & Eco-Living. Excerpts:
HAPPENINGS MAGAZINE: INTRODUCTION:
LAYAN MOUKARIM: I am Layan Moukarim, a Lebanese, but I grew up here in Nigeria. I left for France when I was 12 years old, and I returned last year. I trained as a Lawyer in France. I have been doing this (Organic & Eco-Living Awareness) for 10 years now.
HAPPENINGS MAGAZINE: SINCE YOU GREW UP HERE, WHICH OF THE NIGERIA LANGUAGES CAN YOU SPEAK?
LAYAN MOUKARIM: I can’t remember any. I only remember the bad ones (words), but I am not going to say it (general laughter). You only remember the bad ones, you know.
HAPPENINGS MAGAZINE: WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO START THE ORGANIC & ECO-LIVING STORE?
LAYAN MOUKARIM: I would say my mum introduced me to organic-living, and I have been very passionate about it since I was a kid in France. While studying Law, I focused on the Environmental Law. I ended up opening my first store in Lebanon in year 2009 – I have 2 stores over there.
I felt I should come replicate the same thing here in Nigeria. I have been creating a lot of awareness back there in my country. I did a bit of survey and I discovered that there is a whole lot of confusion as to what organically grown foods or products are. This store has just been opened in less than two months.
HAPPENINGS MAGAZINE: CAN YOU BRIEFLY EXPATIATE ON WHAT YOU MEAN BY ORGANIC-LIVING?
LAYAN MOUKARIM: When we say organic, we are talking about sustainable living and how we can return to the basic and not all of the preservatives, junks we take in daily. Here in Nigeria, there is a whole of confusion as to what the real organic products are, even among the farmers, I really wish they have a certification where we can really certify if truly the farm produce are organic, but we discovered that after the lab test, you find out that different preservatives and chemicals has been added.
Organic comes from organic agriculture; the quality of the water, soil and the environment is being factored in as well. I am really hoping to help create more awareness about this, we are already speaking to some group of farmers down here.
HAPPENINGS MAGAZINE: WITH MOST NIGERIANS NOT BEING HEALTHY EATERS, DON’T YOU THINK THIS YOUR IDEA WOULD HIT A BRICK WALL IN TERMS OF ACCEPTANCE?
LAYAN MOUKARIM: I beg to differ, I think no matter what culture we are, everybody is becoming more conscious and aware of healthy living, there is a whole lot of information on the internet, especially social media- from Facebook to Instagram, Twitter and Youtube.
Let’s even forget about the culture and their eating habits, I am Lebanese, I have my unique food, as a Nigerian, same with you, but the major challenge is the quality of that food you are eating. Like I explain to my Nigerian customers, who come in here thinking this is a diet or weight loss store, that what we are promoting is healthy living through the food and other products you takein or eat. Organic French fries, chocolate, burgers are still the same, just that it is purely organically grown.
HAPPENINGS MAGAZINE: LET TALK ABOUT YOUR BEAUTIFUL STORE, WHAT IS IT ALL ABOUT?
LAYAN MOUKARIM: The idea here is simply to introduce organic living to the Nigerian populace, like I said earlier on, a lot of people are confused that organic is just vegetables or fruits, but this store helps in educating them that they can find anything and everything organic. As you can see we have a whole lot of household items ranging from body cream, shampoo, deodorants, spices, ketchup, flowers – anything you can find in a supermarket. We have a bit of everything, though we are still testing the market.
The reason we are having all of these autoimmune diseases such as cancer, leukemia and all others skyrocketing is because they are all linked to what we take in.
Our grand parents eat fresh foods, where they know the actual source, so basically, this is what this store is all about.
HAPPENINGS MAGAZINE: ARE ALL OF THE ITEMS IN YOUR STORE LOCALLY PRODUCED HERE IN NIGERIA?
LAYAN MOUKARIM: Unfortunately No! I have zero-locally produced products here, even the vegetables we saw was a disaster to our organic awareness. I tried everything to get them here, all to no avail, but I am discussing with the farmers association how we can encourage more organic farmers.
HAPPENINGS MAGAZINE: BUT WHY IS IT SO DIFFICULT?
LAYAN MOUKARIM: A lot of people come to me saying that their farm produce is organic, but what guarantee do I have that it is truly organic.
HAPPENINGS MAGAZINE: SO HOW DO YOU DIFFERENTIATE BETWEEN ORGANIC & INORGANIC FARM PRODUCE?
LAYAN MOUKARIM: I don’t do it myself, we have engineers here, farmers who are trained; the process is such that 6 years before planting at all, you make sure that no preservatives or chemicals have touched the land, or a virgin land that no one has touch in like ten years (great). Organic agriculture is a form of rotation whereby this year you grow tomatoes, the following year cucumber and so on. If you plant a particular type of fruit or vegetable on the land for a very long period of time, you are going to suck up all the nutrients at once. They treat any major disease breakout simply with the law of nature. But here in Lagos, we don’t have that, I am not a farmer but I need to be guaranteed that it’s a pure organic product. Unlike the conventional farmers, the organic farmers don’t make as much profit like that.
HAPPENINGS MAGAZINE: WHAT COUNTRY DO YOU IMPORT ALL THE PRODUCTS HERE FROM?
LAYAN MOUKARIM: I import most of them from Europe, America and England, because of language barriers, we can’t import from Spain, but I have more UK & US products here.
HAPPENINGS MAGAZINE: HOW THEN DO YOU DEAL WITH THE IMPORTATION HURDLES DOWN HERE IN NIGERIA?
LAYAN MOUKARIM: Arghh! They are wahala, problem & headache. I have had a lot of barriers with the customs, its normal for government everywhere to protect the local production, for example this empty section here was supposed to be filled with some eco-friendly, bio-degradable product, but I was not allowed.
We do 100% organic, so I am been hindered to bring in a lot of things I would have loved to bring in.
HAPPENINGS MAGAZINE: WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS ABOUT CREATING MORE AWARENESS ABOUT ORGANIC-LIVING?
LAYAN MOUKARIM: Right about now, we can’t really do much, but when customers comes in, the whole team down here are knowledgeable enough to explain everything to them, that is why our set-up is like that of a boutique, so people can sit-down and we explain better to them. Some people think it’s a voodoo store, where we give them something to get better, but there is someone here to advise you and follow you up.
HAPPENINGS MAGAZINE: ARE YOU PLANNING BUSINESS EXPANSION ANYTIME SOON?
LAYAN MOUKARIM: We are taking it a step at a time. I would be willing to partner with other agencies to create more awareness, and Nigeria is such a big country.
HAPPENINGS MAGAZINE: HAVING STUDIED LAW, HOW COME YOU ARE THIS PASSIONATE AND KNOWLEDGEABLE ABOUT ORGANIC-LIVING?
LAYAN MOUKARIM: I told you earlier on my mum inspired me. In the last 10 years, I have been reading about it, I have so many friends from across the world; I have also attended conferences and workshop.
HAPPENINGS MAGAZINE: SINCE YOU LAUNCHED THIS PLACE, HOW HAS BUSINESS TURN OVER BEEN?
LAYAN MOUKARIM: It’s been slow, but I have a lot of feedback. Every customer has had a reason to come back, they even come with another friend or family. We have lots of Nigerians who patronise us, we are here to cater for everybody.
HAPPENINGS MAGAZINE: HAVE YOU HAD ANY ISSUES WITH ANY GOVERNMENT LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCIES EVER SINCE YOU COMMENCED OPERATIONS?
LAYAN MOUKARIM: No, not at all, we abide by every rule. I can be very just and principled on something, even to my own detriment.
HAPPENINGS MAGAZINE: HOW DO YOU UNWIND?
LAYAN MOUKARIM: Wow! I have not been able to discover that, but I have come to realise that I have to let go of any situation I can’t control; I used to be very tense before now. Every weekend, I hangout with my fiancé, I go to the beach, but due to my work here, I have been really busy of late, but I try to balance it.