Rose essential oil from Ethiopia

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When it comes to sources of essential rose oil, countries such as Turkey, Bulgaria, Iran and Afghanistan come to mind – but Ethiopia? As it turns out, the Ethiopian highlands, which are known for their coffee, provide the ideal conditions for growing the very fragrant Damask rose, and this Ethiopian grown Rosa damascena yields an exceptionally precious essential oil.

In 2005, Ethiopian farmer Fekade Lakew joined forces with WALA, producers of Dr. Hauschka, and began cultivating Damask roses on six hectares of land in keeping with the principles of biodynamic agriculture. He has now expanded his land area to 25 hectares. It took seven years of growth before he distilled the first batch of rose essential in 2012. This is the first rose oil production in sub-Saharan Africa that is to organic standards. 

In line with its high quality standards and related commitment to only use raw materials obtained from biodynamic or controlled organic cultivation wherever possible, WALA believes that it is extremely important to establish new raw material partnerships.

The rose farm Terra PLC is located in Debre Birhan, some 125 kilometres north of Ethiopia's capital city, Addis Abeba, at an altitude of 2900 metres. This high mountainous landscape is ideal for growing Damask roses. Everything began at the farm in 2002, when vegetables were planted there. After that came a brief phase of cultivating cut roses, however, they did not tolerate the late frosts which can occur in the Ethiopian highlands. Fekade Lakew therefore decided to cultivate the more robust Damask roses.

He was soon in contact with WALA, who showed great interest in his efforts. “We had long been considering an attempt at growing roses near the Equator,” said Ralf Kunert, Managing Director of naturamus GmbH, an independent subsidiary of WALA. The prospects are especially promising because the closer plants grow to the Equator, the longer they blossom. In the countries known for cultivating roses such as Bulgaria, Turkey and Iran roses bloom within four weeks and have to be harvested in this time, whereas it takes eight weeks in Debre Birhan. “This is a huge advantage,” Ralf Kunert explains. “It means that we have twice the amount of time to harvest the same amount of rose blossoms.” In other words, there is less pressure on the farmers to finish the harvest quickly; fewer rose pickers are needed, and what's more, they can be often be employed beyond the season itself. Furthermore, the quality of the roses can be monitored more closely during picking, and the output of the distillation unit is more consistent. Last but not least, Ethiopian highland roses offer yet another benefit: at four grammes per blossom, they are nearly twice as heavy as the rose blossoms from other countries, which typically weigh 2 - 2.5g.

WALA/Dr. Hauschka accepts social responsibility

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WALA provided motivation for the project by donating the rose cuttings. After seven years growth the plants had turned into hearty rose bushes. To make sure that the roses received the proper care from the very beginning and to create the best possible conditions, WALA provided Fekade Lakew and his employees a consultant in the field of biodynamic agriculture. The expert visits the rose farm at regular intervals several times a year to train and advise employees there about how to cultivate roses properly. As a means of ensuring compliance with the high standards WALA fundamentally upholds for the raw materials it processes, the first certification audit was held in 2012 in keeping with Demeter guidelines and the fair-trade standard ‘Fair for Life.’ WALA financed the costs of the audit. A distillation unit was also installed in 2012. It was made in Ethiopia under the guidance of a Bulgarian distillery builder whom WALA had recommended. Funding came from WALA and the German aid organisation Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit , which was acting under contract with the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development. “It is important to us that knowledge is generated in the country itself and amongst our project partners. Helping people to help themselves is WALA's maxim,” Ralf Kunert states.

The objective of every WALA raw-material project is to expand organic and biodynamic agriculture across the globe. Partners are supported on site with funding and technical expertise. WALA signs a contract to purchase the raw materials yielded by the project. This gives the project partners security in planning, and their employees can be paid their wages on a regular basis. In its supplier relations, WALA pays special attention to decent working conditions, fair wages, and conscientious and responsible use of environmental resources. 

1 hectare of roses for 1 kg of essential rose oil

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Approximately one hectare of roses is needed to obtain one kilogram of the precious oil which is used in nearly all Dr. Hauschka products and in many WALA medicines. WALA has agreed to purchase all of the rose oil produced at the farm for a period of ten years. “After that, Fekade Lakew should also offer his rose oil to other purchasers,” Ralf Kunert says. “We don't want a project partner to be dependent on us; instead, they need to have several customers so they can stand on their own two feet.”

In the meantime, Fekade Lakew has leased another 14 hectares of land in Angolela, some ten kilometres away. The state currently does not permit private land ownership with the exception of a very small lot for personal use. Several rose bushes grow in Angolela, and soon there will be many more if farmers in the region follow Fekade Lakew's example. This may happen rapidly, since people in a neighbouring village have expressed interest. If all goes well, they too will start growing roses and have essential rose oil produced in the distillation unit at Terra PLC. The roses are blooming in Ethiopia, and as they do, the economic and social situation of some families there can slowly but steadily improve. 

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Creating a better world • Sustainable partnerships all around the world

In creating the formulations for Dr. Hauschka skin care and make-up products, we draw on the many things that nature has to offer. For example, medicinal plants, botanical oils and waxes and genuine essential oils, naturally of organic or biodynamic quality wherever possible. Many of the medicinal plants used grow in our own biodynamic medicinal herb garden or in the fields on our Demeter farm over the road from Head Office, the Sonnenhof. We also purchase other raw materials from regional sources. Our climate is simply not suitable for growing some of the plant species from which we obtain raw materials.

Fragrant roses for essential rose oil, almond trees and jojoba bushes, for example. We want to purchase these in organic quality for our formulations as well. To do this, we sometimes have to instigate the production of organic raw materials in the first place. Essential rose oil, mango butter, castor oil and shea butter are just a few of the raw materials to which this applies. We support farmers financially and with our knowledge of organic farming. We help them obtain organic certifications and guarantee certain purchase volumes.

It goes without saying that we are committed to fair trade conditions and social responsibility, characterised by mutual trust and independent development opportunities. We therefore have a solid and long-term working relationship with many organic farming partners, including ones who grow almonds and olives in Spain, jojoba in Argentina and macadamia nuts in Kenya. We help our partners increase their production capacities and, where desired, finance regular visits to them by biodynamic consultants.

The aim of such involvement is always to enable the partners to develop commercially and achieve economic stability that makes them independent from us.

We also believe that such partnerships should involve good local working conditions. We have encouraged developments such as the creation of social areas for the workers of an oil mill and supported the construction of suitable sanitary facilities, for example. After all, it is not only financial independence that is important to us, but also better social conditions for people locally.

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