Valley -Trestieni (Moldova) (AFP)
Young couples and families pose for glamorous photos as the sun sets over Alexei Cazac’s vast lavender field outside the capital of Moldova.
“Once, the first year of lavender blooming, we came and the whole field was full of people,” the 40-year-old farmer told AFP on a recent visit.
“It’s like the setting for a photo shoot. We didn’t plan it that way, ”he says.
Cazac, which planted its first bushels in 2015, is part of a growing cohort of farmers in Moldova fueling a resurgence of aromatic herb, whose cultivation collapsed with the Soviet Union.
The return to the small border country of Romania caught the attention not only of locals hungry for likes on social media, but also of global cosmetics companies based in Western Europe.
“After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the industry was forgotten,” says Alexandru Badarau, president of the Lavender Growers Association.
“It collapsed precisely because our link was severed with Moscow, where most of the essential oils produced in Moldova were exported,” he told AFP.
“We are working hard to revive it. “
About five or six newcomers to the industry are planting rows of herbs every year, he says, a trend that has seen Moldova’s lavender oil production double in 2021 to 20 tonnes from there at twenty.
But we are still far from 1989, when the country produced 180 tonnes.
The Badarau association claims that its members export 99% of their oil to the European Union, in particular Germany, and to two other well-known producers: France and Bulgaria.
The oil is widely used in cosmetics, and its aromas are hailed for their relaxing and calming qualities which some say combat anxiety and insomnia.
Producers in Moldova say that Bulgaria, which was also under the Iron Curtain, benefited greatly from the European Union after joining in 2007.
But where Bulgaria excels in quantity, Moldova wins in quality, they say.
– Room for growth –
The local variety yields less oil, concedes Nicu Ulinici, who inherited his father’s farm and harvested his first bushes in 2014.
# photo1 ″ But it’s better, ”he says. Its aroma is “more pleasant, sweeter”.
For Badarau, lavender has won over producers in Moldova thanks to its success in dry climates. This, he believes, will help farmers mitigate “risks associated with climate change”.
Indeed, the multinational cosmetics company Weleda, which started sourcing Moldovan lavender in 2005, described the country as “perfect” for this plant.
The French perfume company Mane is another major brand in Moldova whose subsidiary works in the cultivation and production of essential oils.
Yet recent experience shows that the future is not guaranteed to be rosy.
The United States Agency for International Development said in 2017 that Moldova was still exposed to climate risks, with likely “adverse effects” for producers.
He said the industry has seen fluctuating economic success in one of the poorest countries to emerge from the Soviet collapse, with Moldova’s market share still far behind essential oil majors like Turkey and China.
Highlighting climate threats, the United Nations Development Program said Moldovan farmers last year harvested up to 50% bushels less than in 2019, due to lukewarm spring temperatures and a drought. summer.
The report also noted that demand for essential oils fell during the coronavirus pandemic.
But producers in Moldova are not confused.
Badarau says that his association registered the Essential Oils of Moldova brand to promote products abroad and that it was aiming for certification of an international agricultural quality assurance group.
This is “of great concern to the end consumer,” he says.
In the meantime, there is money to be made from visitors drawn to the scenic fields.
Cazac, who owns more than 60 acres of lavender, says he charges visitors the equivalent of about $ 3 for walking around in his purple bushels.
On the horizon, he sees plenty of room for expansion.
“Moldova is producing a lot less than it could,” he says.
“But first we have to prove that we are producing a quality product that meets international standards. “
© 2021 AFP