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Ingredients & formulation

Production of ylang ylang flowers under threat in Comoros?

Ylang ylang is a key ingredient of many perfumes and Comoros is the world’s top producer of the essential oil extracted from the flower - a commodity that makes up one tenth of the archipelago’s total export revenues. Nevertheless, authorities and agronomists have been raising the alarm bells for several years over threats on the "flower of flowers".

© AFP Photo / Marco Longari

© AFP Photo / Marco Longari

The French introduced the tree on the island of Reunion in the 1700s and in the early 1900s its cultivation spread to the nearby islands of Comoros and Madagascar.

350 distilleries

The ylang ylang oil, along with vanilla and cloves, brings precious foreign exchange to Comoros, boosting its frail economy. Each year, the archipelago of three islands produces between 30 and 40 tonnes of this essential oil - ahead of Madagascar - mainly on the island of Anjouan, home to 350 distilleries.

Exports of ylan ylang essential oil amounted to about 1.5 million euros (US $1.6 million) in 2013 and 2014, which represents 11 per cent of Comoros’ revenue.

Ibrahim Ahamada, an economist at the International Monetary Fund (IMF), said the flower remains "a potential source of income and significant currency for the country" provided there is "serious reorganisation of the sector". Actually, to increase production, farms need to improve the quality of the plants, investment is needed in infrastructure and measures to tackle deforestation must be put in place. A revamping of the sector begun last year with international funds.

Deforestation and rural migration

For several years, governmental authorities and agronomists are raising the alarm bell over threats on the ylang ylang flower.

This tree is grown somewhat like a vine and requires constant maintenance. Without regular pruning, the trunk grows too high for farmers to access the flowers. However, Comorian plantations of this tree now have over a hundred years of age. "Despite the economic importance of the ylang ylang essential oil, there is surprising no plant breeding program," said agronomist Céline Benini of the University of Liège, Belgium.

Deforestation is also a major problem: forest cover has shrunk by 25 per cent in 20 years. Given the patchy electricity supply, even the distillation of the ylang ylang essential oil in old alembics requires a lot of wood.

There are also few people willing to take on the backbreaking tasks of pruning the plants and picking between 25 to 40 kilogrammes of flowers a day in high season. A job paying about 50 euros a month. As a consequence, farmers sometimes encourage their children to try their luck in cities or migrate overseas.

Securing supply sources

Perfumers are well aware of the difficulties and threats on the production of this strategic plant, in particular because the case is also not isolated.

© AFP Photo / Marco Longari

© AFP Photo / Marco Longari

Today there are about a hundred critical raw materials in perfumery, for which a minimum of stability in terms of price and quality must be ensured. Many of these materials come from countries plagued by rural depopulation, where plantations are being abandoned for good as people flow towards large cities. In India, Laos, Uganda, Haiti… we have been investing in programmes to support rural populations and help them grow their cultures, while ensuring them stable incomes and prospects in the long term. We make sure these people get a stable income so they can plant, invest, and innovate. This is designed to be a long-lasting organization,” said Olivier de Lisle, who is in charge of the Fine Fragrance Department at Firmenich, in a recent interview to Premium Beauty News.

As far as Comorian ylang ylang is concerned, Chanel says it is trying to get its suppliers to plant their own trees for firewood in order to meet the needs of the essential oil extraction. The French perfumer also says it is committed to providing better conditions and fair wages for the workers on these plantations.

V.G. with AFP/Relaxnews

© 2015 - Brazil Beauty News -

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