Our Story

Blessings Of The Forest

Mission

Blessings Of The Forest (BOTF) is an International Social Organisation dedicated to the Conservation and Sustainable/Equitable Promotion of the Natural and Cultural Heritage of the Indigenous Peoples of Gabon, for the benefit of all Humanity.

The Mind

Our approach is first to Listen, Understand and then Support the Gabonese People Committed to the objective of Preservation and National, then International, Promotion of its Material and Immaterial Resources; this in accordance with the spirit of the “Nagoya Protocol” (International Agreement on Biodiversity resulting from the Conference on Biological Diversity – CBD – of the United Nations) adopted for the first time in the world, in November 2011, by the Gabonese Republic.

The Body

To achieve its mission, Blessings Of The Forest is made up of 2 legally constituted adminis- trative and operational structures.
We first developed a Community Interest Company (CIC – or ‘Social Enterprise’) based since the 8th of October 2015 in the UK.
Blessings Of The Forest CIC is in charge of International Fundraising, Project Management of funded projects and Inter-Cultural Mediation/Awareness between all stakeholders. Then, on 11 April 2018, we created an NGO under Gabonese law (law 35/62 of 10 December 1962).
The NGO “Blessings Of The Forest – Gabon” is in charge of the implementation of the projects en- trusted by BOTF CIC, particularly concerning direct relations with local associative communities as well as with the Gabonese central and regional administrations.

The complete story from its genesis

Blessings Of The Forest is initially the fruit of the story and convictions of the Franco-Gabonese
Yann Guignon, born in 1974 in Angers, Consultant in Intercultural Mediation and Sustainable
Development, specialist in Sub-Saharan Africa in general and Gabon in particular.

Yann discovers Gabon and Iboga for the first time

 

In 2004, Yann Guignon came across Gabon when he was in charge of the development of New Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) implementation projects in sub-Saharan Africa for a French group operating in the field (ARES GROUP).

Yann had already been working for years to promote new commercial practices on the part of the countries of the North towards the countries of the South (…), in particular France towards its former African colonies. He strove to convince the ICT integrator who employed him to rely on the culture and the specific framework of the end users (secondary school pupils in Gabon) rather than simply starting from technologies and information content that are potentially unsuited to the local context. This is how the Project Director on the client’s side, Mr. Aristide Nguema, started to share with Yann the history of Gabon, its people, its habits and customs…

This in turn, is how Yann heard for the first time about the Gabonese National Cultural Heritage, Iboga, a plant that is sacred in this Central African country. Developed around this Tree, also called “Sacred Wood”, is an initiation rite and an ancestral cultural practice called Bwiti.

In view of his interest in the subject, during a seminar in Normandy dedicated to Personal Development inspired by ancestral Gabonese bwitist practices, Aristide then offered Yann to experience Iboga himself.

During this supervised retreat, Yann’s experience with the “Sacred Wood of Gabon” was so strong, so rich in teachings, so positive for his physical and mental health, that he was invited to join the French ‘NGO’, “E-Boga“, created by members of the Gabonese diaspora in France and dedicated to the “Sustainable Promotion of Gabonese Traditional Medicine in the West“.

Yann is initiated into Bwiti

 

In 2006, after 2 years within this NGO trying to convince some French institutions to continue clinical scientific research around iboga, especially in the treatment of post-traumatic disorders and drug addictions, Yann decided to go to Gabon to be initiated into the Bwiti rite, with one of the most orthodox and reputed Master Initiators of the country: Maitre Atome Ribenga.

Yann’s initiation into Bwiti, in the branch known as “Mboumba Eyano” (“Self-knowledge“), was more
powerful and revealing than his first experience in France two years earlier. Yann’s initiatory journey allowed
him to understand the mysteries of his existence and in particular to confirm his life’s goal: to be a
fair and lasting mediator between ancestral and modern sciences.

Through this action, Yann understood that he would be part of a necessary process of repairing, of reci-
procity, of rebalancing the relationship between two conflicting poles, and by consequence, would thus lighten his soul wounded by his own existential conflicts. Yann then became what in Gabon is called an
“Nganga” (“Nga-Nga” or “Saviour-Saved”), someone who finds his salvation through the help he brings to others
in a particular field, through the expertise he develops in the service of a cause that is particularly close to his
heart.

Yann was then renamed by the Bwitist community of Gabon: ‘Mwana Maghanga’ or ‘The Son of Science’.

Iboga is banned in France, producing an important catalyst for communication


In 2007, following the death of a French drug addict who had combined opiates (heroin) with iboga against
all recommendations (during a treatment organised by a French doctor inspired by bwitist practices), The French Agency for the Sanitary Security of Health Products (AFSSAPS) classified iboga in category IV of narcotic products and the Interministerial Mission for Vigilance and the Fight against Sectarian Aberrations (MIVILUDES) categorised Bwiti as a “Sectarian Aberration”.

This sudden prohibition put an end to any hope of resuming scientific research on iboga in France, which had already begun in 1864 with Doctor Griffon Du Bellay.

The E-Boga NGO, like all other NGOs under French law related to iboga and bwiti, were then forced to dissolve.

The Gabonese community in France and Gabon, outraged by this sudden ban, which violated the ancestral cultural identity of their country, a former French colony with a complex relationship with its ex-coloniser, who is still very present in Gabon, began a series of media actions from Paris to Libreville.

Yann then decided to go back to Gabon to make a video report giving the floor (concerning the decisions taken by France regarding iboga and Bwiti) to local stakeholders, whether traditional, scientific, administrative or official.


Yann then took the opportunity to pass a second stage of the bwitist rite practiced by Master Atome Ribenga called “Mimbara” or “Room of axes”. This major stage of this initiatory school has the principal aim of preparing a pupil for the challenges to come on his path by teaching him the rudiments of the functioning of universal justice with the help, once again, of iboga.

At the end of this very profound apprenticeship, Yann was summoned by the Vice Prime Minister in charge of Social Affairs in the Gabonese Republic, who was also a famous Nganga of Bwiti, Louis Gaston Mayila. The latter had heard about “this Frenchman, newly initiated by Master Atome Ribenga, questioning and filming various public figures about iboga and Bwiti” and asked him in turn to question him about his deep motivations.


After this long interview, Mr Louis Gaston Mayila asked Yann to go to the first channel of the Gabonese national television in order to “explain to public opinion the reasons why France had banned iboga on its territory and insulted the bwitist tradition, especially at a time when a Frenchman was being initiated into Bwiti while coming out not only alive but above all growing from his experiences”.
Thus, on the following Sunday evening, at prime time, Yann found himself on a RTG1 television set debating
the subject entrusted to him in the presence of a journalist (Hasse Nziengui) and various representatives of the political, traditionalist, judicial and civil authorities of Gabon. The programme was a resounding success and Yann was encouraged to continue his work. He then met the first Frenchman (naturalised Gabonese) to have been initiated into Bwiti and the only “Westerner” to be a consecrated Master Initiator of Bwiti, Hugues Obiang Poitevin, who is also the Founding President of the NGO Ebando dedicated to the “Promotion of the Cultural and Natural Heritage of the Peoples of Gabon“. Hugues, who is also a Consultant in
Intercultural Mediation, became a source of rich teachings for Yann and the two of them were to be bound by a cooperative friendship.

Yann moves himself and Trait d’Union to Gabon and begins work with Doctor Gassita to create
international database



In 2009, Yann became a permanent resident of Gabon and relocated his consulting firm (“Traits d’Union“) from the Paris region to Libreville. He then put his method of Intercultural Management and Skills Transfer to good use for the DHL group’s sales teams in Gabon. Yann then developed his local clientele operating in various fields of activity (New Technologies, Real Estate, Cinema, Catering, Printing,
NGOs…).

In parallel to his work as a consultant, Yann continued his studies within the Bwitist tradition and met many
“activists” of iboga and Traditional Pygmy-Bantu Medicine, notably the eminent Professor Jean
Noël Gassita, Doctor of Pharmacy and Dean of the International Scientific Research on iboga.
Professor Gassita, who was also the Scientific Advisor to the President of the Republic, offered to become Yann’s
“Gabonese godfather” and opened his heart to him as well as his huge library.


Both of them then worked for 2 years to constitute the biggest international database about iboga, gath-
ering thousands of pages of documents of all kinds from all over the world.

Lady of the Gabonese Republic, Sylvia Bongo Ondimba, funds and supports the creation of an Inventory of Iboga in Gabon and abroad. In the same year Gabon became the first country in the world to ratify the “Nagoya Protocol”


In 2011, Yann married Marie Lou Miboka Aboghé, a Gabonese woman of Akele/Fang custom, initiated into
Bwiti, whom he had met two years earlier and who would later become a State Nurse at the Public Hospital
and a Pharmacy Saleswoman.

Professor Gassita would bless their wedding on the beach of Akanda according
to the Myéné custom, and would then offer his godson, as a wedding gift, the opportunity to meet the First
Lady of the Gabonese Republic, Sylvia Bongo Ondimba, within the framework of her “Foundation dedicated to projects for women, young people and vulnerable people throughout Gabon“. Professor Gassita and Yann succeeded in convincing the First Lady to finance and supervise an “Report of Iboga in Gabon and abroad” within her foundation, enabling them to compile, verify in a specialised committee, translate and summarise all the documents gathered by their duo on the subject. Indeed, the SBO Foundation has a department for the “Promotion of Non-timber Forest Products” which studies
Gabonese natural resources with high value likely to generate income for the populations concerned by
the object of the foundation.

In the same year, in view of the growing international interest in Gabon’s natural and cultural resources, Gabon became the first country in the world to ratify the “Nagoya Protocol” of the United Nations Conference on Biological Diversity.


This international agreement deals with “Access to Genetic Resources and Fair and Equitable Sharing of the Benefits Arising out of their Utilisation“.

The report is published shedding light on problematic poaching practices, Yann continues his own journey within the traditional rites


In 2012, after six months of intense work with a multidisciplinary team, Yann officially submitted his report
to the First Lady of Gabon, who forwarded it to all the authorities concerned. The conclusions were clear: if nothing were done as soon as possible, iboga would disappear from the public domain, and many international laboratories were in the process of appropriating the scientific and f-
nancial benefits derived from iboga illegally exported from Gabon via highly structured poaching networks, mainly driven by neighbouring Cameroon.

That same year, Yann and his wife Marie Lou passed the “Sanctuary of the Sun” initiation together in a Pygmy/
Babongo community established on the road to the “Crystal Mountains” and whose spiritual leader is a master
initiator of Punu customs called “Adumangana”.

‘Iboga – Ça s’explique’ – an educational programme based on their findings is created and diffused into the public realm. Yann’s involvement and commitment to the cause is recognised by the minister for culture)


In 2013, the Presidency of the Gabonese Republic commissioned the report to be adapted into a short educational programme (“Iboga – Ça s’explique“) which was produced the same year and regularly broadcast on national television in order to raise public awareness of the importance of planting iboga and taking action to protect it.

Then the Ministry for Culture, through his General Director Thierry Nzamba Nzamba, delivered a letter to Yann that “legally recognised the remarkable work carried out by the Consultancy in Sustainable Development and Intercultural Mediation” Traits d’Union ” for the safeguarding of the traditional use of iboga and the respect of the traditions of Gabon, which fit perfectly into the framework of the law N°02/1994 of December 30, 1982 on the protection of cultural goods in the Gabonese Republic and the texts of application”.

“International Alliance of Ibogaine Therapists” (GITA) held an international conference in South Africa. In the same year Yann is named ‘Guardian of the tradition’ and begins to look for international partners.


In 2014, thanks to his mediation mandate obtained from the Gabonese authorities, Yann was invited to an international conference organised in Durban (South Africa) by the “International Alliance of Ibogaine Therapists” (GITA), the main alkaloid extracted from iboga.


This event had been bringing together the world’s leading iboga researchers for several years, without Gabon
ever being associated with it.
Yann would throw a spanner in the works by sharing the conclusions of his Iboga report and by vigorously
indexing the researchers and clinics violating Gabonese and international law by participating in the plundering of iboga from the Gabonese public domain, via clearly identified poaching networks, and then by appropriating the traditional knowledge linked to this sacred resource and patenting, for their own profit, the therapeutic use of ibogaine.
On his return from South Africa, Yann was recognised as a “Guardian of the Tradition” by his Spiritual Father, Master Atome Ribenga, who strongly encouraged him to continue this work of raising awareness wherever necessary in Gabon and throughout the world.


Yann then had a working meeting with the Executive Secretary of Gabon’s National Parks, Professor Lee White, with
whom he had also collaborated during the drafting of the iboga inventory, notably on the subject of poaching
of the resource and the links between it and elephants. Professor White advised Yann to create a solid and
transparent international legal structure in order to obtain donor support for the projects partially proposed to the Gabonese authorities at the end of the report. Yann listened to this valuable advice and began to look
for international partners in this regard.

Yann creates BOTF CIC in the UK and meets David Nassim who became his co-director

 

In 2015, Yann chose to turn to the English-speaking networks, which are the ones that show the most inter-
est in researching iboga and the subject of reciprocity towards indigenous peoples.

Two of his friends living in England and initiated in Bwiti, Ben Taylor & Kate Hewett, offered to create a social
administrative structure in England.

As the Foundation status was extremely difficult to obtain at first, they decided to create a Community Inter-
est Company that Yann named “Blessings of the Forest“.

Yann was then invited to a Plant Consciousness Conference in London’s Regents Park to present his work on iboga and to announce the creation of Blessings Of The Forest to conservation and botanical study activists from around the world.
It was at the end of his participation at this conference that Yann met David Nassim (a.k.a. “Mutombi”),
Consultant in Chinese Medicine, who had just returned from Gabon where he was initiated into Bwiti (Ombwiri rite) by André Ngié Ovono, spiritual father of Hugues Obiang Poitevin of the Gabonese NGO Ebando, which Yann had been supporting voluntarily since 2009.
David and Yann immediately connected and David offered his unconditional help to develop Blessings Of The
Forest and provided the organisation with a working base in England (Glastonbury) as well as offering to use his
network and expertise to raise funds.
David Nassim became Co-Director of BOTF CIC, in charge of finances and English networks.

Conference in Mexico on iboga and ibogaine


In 2016, Blessings of The Forest was invited by Jonathan Dickinson, director of the International Alliance of Iboga Therapists (GITA) to a new conference organised this time in Mexico (Tepoztlan). Yann, after the same speech calling for the consideration of the Nagoya Protocol around iboga in Gabon, would sell some t-shirts with the effigy of the organisation to raise what would be the first operating budget of BOTF: a few hundred dollars!


Yann and David met with potential donors, progressively defined BOTF’s strategy, and gathered multidisciplinary volunteers to set up communication, international awareness-raising and lobbying actions with the Gabonese authorities.

Yann joins Conservation Justice


In 2017, Yann, through his consultancy ‘Traits d’Union’, signed a consulting contract in Intercultural Mediation and Sustainable Development with the Gabonese NGO “Conservation Justice” (CJ), a member of the network of “Eco-Activists for Governance and Law Enforcement” (EAGLE), co-founded by the Belgian Luc Mathot.


Conservation Justice is mainly dedicated to the “protection of elephants and other endangered animal
species in Gabon and the fight against illegal logging“.


Yann’s mission within CJ was to build the capacity of all its human resources and improve cooperative and social relations with village communities and regional authorities. As such, he would meet and develop social links with more than a hundred village communities in the Gabonese provinces, in addition to the dozens he had already come to know during his 11 years in Gabon.


In the field, Yann would be particularly attentive to a subject covered by CJ: the application of decree 105
of the Forestry Code relating to Contractual Specifications (CCC).
This law commits to provide for village communities in the vicinity of a logging operation to be compensated
in proportion to the volume of timber harvested.
However, in order to claim this right, communities must first be informed of its existence and then, as the
decree specifies, ‘be constituted as an association and have identified income-generating and community development projects’.
In the remote provinces of Gabon, however, the villagers are very rarely grouped into associations and their only sources of income are usually timber exploitation and hunting, including, unfortunately, of fully protected species.


Agro-forestry for commercial purposes is very little practised in Gabon, due to a lack of investment and control of the sector. But above all, the majority of villagers are totally discouraged by the repeated destruction of their food plantations by elephants in search of food, which is becoming insufficient elsewhere due to logging.


Yann realised that Blessings Of The Forest could develop a solution to the whole problem: if he could convince village communities to plant iboga, he would attract the attention of international donors to support them and develop income-generating activities. Not only can an alternative to the illegal trade in iboga from the public domain be developed, but also villagers could turn away from the unsustainable exploitation of the flora and fauna of their environment.


In this way, a direct link of cooperation and reciprocity would be created between iboga users from all over
the world and Gabonese traditional communities committed to the conservation and development of their
heritage. As CJ provides the villages with lawyers and social teams to help them form associations, BOTF can
provide its expertise in structuring and developing projects.
Not only does this meet the CCC’s requirement to release the sums owed by the loggers (and thus create a
start to the projects), but it also develops a sustainable and equitable strategy for raising funds for Gabonese
village associations. Finally, if a method of protecting plantations could be financed in this way, a solution
would be found to the dramatic human-elephant conflict.

BOTF receives its first funding, they travel around Gabon with CJ’s teams and work to raise awareness in the communities about strategy for developing income-generating activities with iboga as the central engine. Georges Gassita and Etudia Minanga join the team.



In 2018, Blessings Of The Forest CIC received its first funding (20,000 euros) from an Irish donor, a friend
of David Nassim and a recent Bwiti initiate (Terry Mc Cabe a.k.a. “Nzambé Kana”).
This donation would enable the initiation of the very first pilot plantation of iboga in the oldest community
forest in Gabon, managed by the “Adoué Ebyeng Edzuameniene” or “A2E” village association (Ogooué Ivindo Province).



Yann continued to be consulted by Conservation Justice, which was very pleased with the results of his ap-
proach to managing the NGO’s human resources and projects.



He traveled around Gabon with CJ’s teams and worked to raise awareness in the communities he met about
its strategy for developing income-generating activities with iboga as the central engine.
Yann identified traditionalist villages willing to adopt the vision of BOTF and accompanied them with the CJ
teams in their administrative structuring.
In parallel, the Gabonese Ministry of Water and Forests advised BOTF to create a local administrative structure with which a partnership agreement could be signed as part of the Ministry’s political will to develop non-
timber forest products (of which iboga is one).



Thus, on 11 April 2018, the legal statutes of the Association “Blessings Of The Forest – Gabon” were deposited at the Ministry of the Interior, chaired by Marie Lou Miboka Aboghé under the benevolence of Professor Jean Noel Gassita and Hugues Obiang Poitevin as honorary members. Yann is appointed “Strategic Coordinator” of BOTF Gabon.
The BOTF Gabon team was progressively expanding by relying on local skills, in particular with Georges
Gassita, grandson of Professor Gassita and brilliant environmental lawyer. Georges initially took charge of
the administrative and legal consolidation of BOTF Gabon before becoming its Executive Director.
BOTF also called on Judicael Mboulou Mossala (a.k.a. “Etudia Minanga”) as Technical Secretary in charge of mediation with the peoples of southern Gabon and the respect of traditional values.

The exportation of iboga in the Gabonese republic is suspended. BOTF and ICEERS sign a collaboration agreement and embark on their first mission to Gabon.For the first time, all the administrative authorities concerned and Gabonese civil society met with the aim of taking stock of the iboga situation in Gabon and in the world, and then setting up a response strategy to this international craze.



In 2019, after several years of intense lobbying and following an audience with the Minister of Water and
Forests (Mr Guy Bertrand Mapangou), who presented him with a new report on the exponential increase in iboga poaching in the Gabonese public domain, BOTF succeeded in convincing this authority to draft and issue a decree “suspending the export of iboga in the Gabonese Republic as a precautionary
measure” (pending the development of a sustainable and equitable sector).
This decree was the very first regulatory text protecting iboga by name from international pillage.



BOTF and ICEERS (International Centre for Ethno-Botanical Education, Research and Ser-
vices), an international non-profit organisation based in Spain and founded by Ben De Loenen (director of the documentary film “Ibogaine – Rite Of Passage” – 2004), sign a collaboration agreement dedicated to ICEERS’ project to “mobilise the global iboga and ibogaine community to work together around a common vision”.
BOTF and ICEERS then carried out a joint mission to Gabon in order to gather as much information as
possible from all stakeholders in Gabon about the worldwide popularity of iboga.
A full report of this collaborative work is published for the international community.



In the same year, notably during the BOTF/ICEERS mission, a preparatory meeting, with a view to organising an international conference on iboga, was organised by the NGO IRDC Africa (dedicated to agricultural projects in Gabon) in partnership with the Agence Nationale pour la Promotion des Investissements (ANPI) and Blessings Of The Forest.



For the first time, all the administrative authorities concerned and Gabonese civil society met with the aim of
taking stock of the iboga situation in Gabon and in the world, and then setting up a response strategy to this
international craze.
It was then decided to organise this necessary international meeting in Gabon in 2020.

BOTF get funding and support from David Bronner. BOTF also signs a 5 year partnership agree-
ment with the ministry of water and forests.



In 2020, the COVID19 crisis hit the world and the borders closed, putting an end to the organisation of the
International Conference dedicated to Iboga in Gabon.



But paradoxically, this global health crisis would have a beneficial effect on the awareness of alternative medicines at the same time as the “Black Lives Matter” movement exploding in the USA and inciting many American companies/organisations to improve their policies towards ethnic minorities, especially Afro-descendants.



At the same time, the Amerindian community in North America united against the desire of certain associations to decriminalise the use of Peyote, a plant sacred to the natives, which is on the verge of extinction due to its over-consumption internationally.
This situation allowed BOTF to suddenly gain much more attention from the community of psychedelic
plant users linked to sacred use by indigenous peoples around the world.



Thus, through the ICEERS organisation, BOTF met David Bronner, an American businessman and activist who is very committed to fair trade, sustainable agriculture, animal rights and the reform of American laws on the therapeutic use of psychoactive plants.



David co-funds a number of organisations including ICEERS and the renowned Multidisciplinary Association for the Study of Psychedelics (MAPS) founded by Public Policy Doctor Rick Doblin.



Following his exchange with BOTF, David Bronner donated $15,000 to the organisation and promised
to do much more soon…



Then on September 16, 2020, BOTF Gabon signed a 5-year partnership agreement with the Ministry of Water and Forests on the “sustainable management and development of non-timber forest products(NTFPs)”.
“The two parties undertook, on a transparent relational basis, to carry out concerted activities, the main lines of intervention of which relate in particular to the improvement of knowledge, the development of technical tools and their dissemination, the strengthening of stakeholders, the strengthening of the normative and legal framework, the fight against illegal exploitation and the sensitisation and support of village populations in the development of community projects”.

BOTF signs partnership with ‘the far away project’ as well as with the Gabonese NGO “ muyissi Environment’’. By the end of 2021, BOTF was financing iboga plantations and other income-generating activities of 10 village associations that had already planted over 10,000 iboga plants.


In 2021, BOTF would gain visibility and credibility in Gabon and internationally.
As a result, more and more BOTF-supported agroforestry projects were being implemented, particularly in
southern Gabon by various communities structured into associations.


In the middle of the year BOTF signed a partnership with an American fiscal sponsor, the Far
Away Project (offering the possibility for American donors to deduct their donations to BOTF from their
taxes) and then received a new donation of $50,000 from David Bronner.
Working sessions between village associations, BOTF teams and the Gabonese authorities continued to grow in order to draw up a strategy for the implementation of the Nagoya Protocol and thus develop a legal, sus-
tainable and equitable export chain for iboga and other NTFPs.


BOTF signed a partnership agreement with the Gabonese NGO “Muyissi Environnement“, founded and chaired by Ladislas Ndembet, concerning the monitoring of BOTF-funded projects in the south of the country and capacity building of the regional associative network.


By the end of 2021, BOTF was financing iboga plantations and other income-generating activities of 10 vil-
lage associations that had already planted over 10,000 iboga plants.

First joint mission with NTFP to pilot project. BOTF becomes a flagship project for the Indigenous Medicine Conservation Fund”


In 2022, BOTF organises the first joint mission with the NTFP and Nagoya teams of the Ministry of Water and Forests, in the far north-east of Gabon, to the first BOTF-funded pilot project (Association A2E- Ogooué Ivindo).
Jonathan Dickinson, former director of the International Alliance of Ibogaine Therapists (GITA) and now director
of an ibogaine-based treatment facility in Canada, was associated with this mission as the first candidate for
access to the iboga resource in full alignment with the principles inherent in the Nagoya Protocol.
David Bronner was partnering with Myriam Volat (co-director of the US-based RiverStyx Foundation) to create the “Indigenous Medicine Conservation Fund” (IMCF).


BOTF becomes a flagship project of this new foundation and IMCF commits to funding BOTF’s activities with half a million dollars per year.