It is likely many people haven't heard of ylang-ylang, although those same individuals have definitely smelled it. A key ingredient in popular perfumes and beauty products, ylang-ylang flowers are as delicate as they are aromatic.
And three tiny, volcanic Indian Ocean islands are producing 60% of the world's supply.
That supply comes from the ylang-ylang orchards that dot these islands. The flowers are carefully collected by local women and sent to nearby distilleries, where others extract the essence.
Now, following a unique partnership between the Government of Comoros, the Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the International Trade Centre (ITC), ylang-ylang cooperatives are being formed to safeguard Comoros' ylang-ylang pickers, distillers, perfumers and exporters, expanding the opportunities for income and helping to increase productivity.
Djamalia Alaoui collects ylang-ylang flowers for a living, near her home on the island of Anjouan.
Clad in striking pink and purple one morning in May 2018, she explained how to determine whether it is the right time to pluck the blooms, and that flowering season spans May to December each year.
Now, with a ylang-ylang cooperative newly established in her village, the flowers she picks go directly to an adjacent distillery, where they are transformed into essential oil and exported to France.
Others in Comoros are taking that oil, transforming it and looking for their own export markets.
“I receive the ylang-ylang essential oil from the distillery. I then go on to dry and filter the oil to make sure it’s clear and pure... I make essential oil that is very expensive and very popular. We are very proud because it’s a local product that is in demand all over the world," said Houria Said Muhammed, owner of NectaLab based out of her home in the Comoros capitol of Moroni.
NectaLab employs five people, and Houria's products range from perfumes to toners to lotions, all made with Comoros-grown ingredients like ylang-ylang, vanilla and cloves.
"My dream is to no longer have a small laboratory at my home. But instead to create an enterprise and employ a lot of people," she said.
The Government is targeting its precious ylang-ylang, vanilla and cloves – key cash crops with global demand. Through the partnership with EIF, cooperatives, trainings for female entrepreneurs like Houria and small business support in the form of vats, labels and processing items have laid the foundation for increased trade for the country.
“Today we have more yields thanks to the EIF. But we’ve also acquired equipment and we’ve also trained our farmers. And all of that has allowed us to improve the production of our cash crops," said Vice President in Charge of Economy, Energy, Industry, Handicraft, Tourism, Investment, Private Sector and Land Affairs Djaffar Ahmed Said Hassani at his office in Moroni.
He added, "Yes, we need aid and support and assistance. So I’m asking for other partners to align with the EIF to help us grow our cash crops. And in return, as the government of Comoros, we’ll also work hard to ensure that our three cash crops will make their mark on the world. Because it’s these crops that are directly affecting our economy, and our poorest people.”
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