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and many are native. Since many materials are wild-grown and
don’t require fertilizers or rich soil, they don’t compete with
food crops. Another important element is that many fragrant
plants are easy to process on site, allowing growers to add value
to their product. By contrast, cash crops like palm oil or coffee
are processed outside of their growing regions, in which case
farmers retain a much smaller fraction of the final value.
Some of the elements of sustainable agriculture can be observed
in the benzoin case study. In northern Laos, benzoin production
is integrated with upland rice grown under shifting cultivation.
Styrax seedlings grow alongside the rice paddies, and once the
rice is harvested and the field is left fallow, the styrax plants
take over. Traditionally, the fallow period averages seven to 10
years—the optimal time during which the nutrient content of
soil is regenerated. Seven years is exactly the time required
before the benzoin plants are mature enough to be tapped.
This integrated process allows communities to generate additional income from the land, which otherwise would have been
unproductive, as well as maintain mountain ecosystems. Thus,
securing the precious resources can create a situation with high
revenues both for the industry and local communities.
Benzoin “tears” being sorted in Laos; the resin, tapped from Styrax tonkinensis,
is considered to be of the highest quality, given its unique blend of vanilla,
cinnamon and almond facets. (Photo courtesy of Givaudan.)
Urbanization, food crop pressures,
new plant diseases and regulatory
issues create challenging conditions
for the production of high-quality
For example, Firmenich started a sustainability program in
2007 with a Ugandan vanilla trading company, which now produces a superior raw material. The vanilla farmers involved in
the program have a guaranteed buyer, a system that cushions
them against the volatilities of global market prices. Even more
significant is the creation of social programs designed to help
farmers address critical issues in their community, whether it’s
the lack of agricultural training or inadequate healthcare.
In France, meanwhile, International Flavors & Fragrances is
successfully working with narcissus farmers in Lozère by investing in mechanized equipment and creating other incentives to
maintain this unique plant.
Telling the Story
Today, the fragrance industry faces strong pressures from consumer groups and regulatory bodies to adhere to evolving ethical
and environmental benchmarks. In the traditional media, perfume is often portrayed as an expendable luxury, and even a
dangerous one. Because the account of fragrance creation does
not reach the consumers, media and regulators, there is often
little understanding of how perfume is composed. It’s a missed
opportunity. The story is already in the bottle. In many cases it
starts when a farmer in Laos makes an incision into a styrax plant.
Address correspondence to Victoria Frolova; firstname.lastname@example.org.