Last week Boneiru Duradero was welcomed by the backbones of Onima: Jaap Ensing and his daughter Sanny Ensing. About 20 years ago Jaap Ensing was working as a traditional pharmacist in the Netherlands. When he moved with his Family to Curaçao in the eighties, he was introduced to the various magical benefits of Aloe Vera, which immediately got his attention, and resulted in a most interesting, expensive and time-consuming hobby! At this moment he combines his fulltime profession as a pharmacist with his company Onima producing two product lines; Onima Natural Beauty and Onima Natural Health.
From the eighties till now Jaap moved from Curaçao to The Netherlands, from The Netherlands to St. Maarten and from Sint Maarten to Bonaire. Sanny moved house to Sint Maarten when she was nine years old and has been moving back and forth from Sint Maarten to The Netherlands and Bonaire for over the past few years. For now she has decided to stay in Bonaire to help with the management of Onima and continue her freelance-reporting career.
Asking Jaap when he started his plantation, he explains that while he was living on Sint Maarten he already managed an Aloe Vera plantation for eight years on Bonaire, as Bonaire is the perfect home for Aloe Vera. From 1992 till 1997 Jaap was given a piece of land on Bonaire by the LVV department to set up his plantation and explore the production of Aloe products. He started off by freezing in the yielded Aloe Vera and when enough aloe was collected, he would press the gel through a sock! A winepress became the new sock until Jaap discovered how compact the Aloe was and the need for a better, or say, more effective press installation. Based on his experience, Jaap designed a wooden prototype press and ordered that model in steel from The Netherlands, as it was impossible to have it locally made. This prototype was worth the money as it still functions today.
At some point the government took back the piece of land from Jaap and he managed to acquire a new piece of land in 2003. In reference of a subsidized agreement Jaap was first given 10-hectare land and promised another 10 hectare based on his success rate. Even though Onima’s success, the ten hectares of land were taken back again by the government as they are now using that land to build the new JICN. To compensate the loss of land, the local government promised to build a fence around the rest of the plantation to secure the land of Onima. Unfortunately the local government hasn’t built a fence as of today. As there has been a lot of theft on the property in the past; Jaap and Sanny are holding back to invest in water tanks for the plantation; afraid that history will repeat itself. It becomes clear that uncertainty of landownership does make it difficult to invest in business and is an obvious reason for frustration. It also shows that subsidized agreements are not beneficial when there is no continuity guaranteed.
Asking about the interest for Onima’s products, Jaap tells me that in the beginning, he developed products for a small group of people but that word spread and many more became interested in his products. Onima now has a long list of regular international customers, who swear by the use of Onima’s products given there are no chemical additions, nor alcohol or solvents added, the product contains 100% pure Aloe Vera gel. I must admit that after the sample Jaap has given me, my name is to be added on the local customers list. In the past KLM transported these products abroad, but more recently Onima hit the headlines as the sustainable sailing freighter Très Hombres picked up an order to be delivered in The Netherlands.
Asking Sanny about local selling points she shares her frustration with me regarding the cruise markets. Apparently the rules of the market prevent Onima to sell their locally produced Aloe Vera products at the cruise market as there is already one stand selling Aloe Vera products which are imported from Curacao. The market rules state that all stands need to have an unique selling point. However Sanny’s frustration is understandable as this counters the need for more local entrepreneurs to sell original Bonairian made products. For now you can buy Onima’s products in the majority of the local supermarkets or you can order it online.
It’s important to emphasize that the Aloe Vera products from Onima differences from other Aloe products as Jaap combines his pharmaceutical expertise in combination with traditional craftsmanship and advanced technology, to create optimal effectiveness. The whole process is in Jaap’s own hands: from the culture of the plants through harvesting and the extraction of the Aloe Vera gel. Even though Jaap started Onima as a hobby, it becomes very clear that this hobby requires a lot of time, commitment and finance. Though other parties have showed interest to cooperate with Jaap, experience learned that it is difficult to find reliable partners. Asking Jaap and Sanny about future plans for Onima: they mention their current market expansion in The Netherlands and their plans for working together with local kunukero’s in Bonaire.