Kelaat Mgouna (Maroc) (AFP)
To earn a dollar, rose picker Izza in Morocco’s Atlas Mountains wakes up at dawn to collect three kilos of flowers – ultimately distilled into a precious oil costing $ 18,000 a kilo.
“We earn just enough to live,” she said, her gloved hands against the thorns and her head covered by the scorching sun setting over the Valley of Roses to the south of the kingdom.
Harvesting begins at dawn and it takes about six hours – before the sun breaks through the shocking rose petals – to fill the large bags the women carry on their heads to the weighing station.
Izza Ait Ammi Mouh, a Berber woman “around 40” – she does not know her exact age and does not know how to spell her name – does not complain.
The job allows her to feed her family of five, choosing 20 kilograms (45 pounds) to take home for just under $ 7 a day during the short season from April to May.
A kilogram of essential oils requires between four and five tons of flowers.
The intoxicating aroma of Rosa Damascena, a variety introduced at the time of the caravan trade, perfumes the hedges and fields irrigated by two wadis between the mountains and the Sahara desert.
Everything revolves around roses: the names of hotels, cosmetics sold in countless stores, necklaces given by children in the streets.
The annual city festival of Kelaat Mgouna – with a rose statue at its center – drew thousands of visitors ahead of Covid-19.
– ‘Lucky to be poor’ –
“The rose is the only way to work in the valley,” explains Najad Hassad.
The 35-year-old happily left her job in a packaging factory to run the Rosamgoun cooperative, a small distillery created by two sisters who grow roses.
Work is much better paid, 2,500 dirhams (280 dollars) per month, almost the official minimum wage in Morocco, instead of 400 dirhams per month at the factory.
And the five-employee unit feels “like family”.
The distillery produces rose water and essential oils sold in the cooperative store, as well as cosmetic derivatives such as soap, creams, perfumes and ointments.
Rochdi Bouker, head of the Moroccan association of producers and processors, Fimarose, sees the rose as “an engine of local development”, capitalizing on the worldwide popularity of natural raw materials and organic products.
It aims to register an “organic” label for the valley in order to promote local roses on a world market dominated by Bulgaria and Turkey, leaders in rose-based perfumes.
“We are fortunate to be poor,” he said. “We do not treat our valley, or very little – (it) is not filled with pesticides or insecticides.”
To increase its income and fight against the rural exodus, Morocco must “develop the derivatives that bring the most income”, essential oils and “concrete”, an extract obtained by solvent which, once filtered, is very prized by the luxury perfume industry. , Bouker added.
– ‘Find out more’ –
Moroccan exports of roses are currently limited mainly to rose water and dried flowers.
Essential oils represent only about 50 kilos of annual exports and “concrete” for 500 kilos, a fraction of the industrial volumes sold by Bulgaria and Turkey, according to Fimarose.
“The main buyers here are passing tourists,” explains Mohamed Kaci.
Aged 40, he started with a still and today employs 30 people in his company “La Valle des Roses”, specializing in cosmetics.
But “unfortunately, Covid-19 blocks everything,” he says.
With the pandemic, the price of fresh flowers has fallen by about 30 percent over the past two years.
The slowdown came after a sustained period, driven by the efforts of the Ministry of Agriculture to develop the sector.
“We are looking for more and more investors,” says Hafsa Chakibi.
The 30-year-old Franco-Moroccan created her own company, Flora Sina, in 2016 on the back of a university degree in chemistry, banking on the appeal of organic, small volumes and “traditional” distillation in stills in copper.
Its “pure and natural” rose water quickly found customers “looking for something more” in Canada, China, Great Britain, France and the Netherlands.
© 2021 AFP