Business.2010 newsletter: Agribusiness

Volume 3, Issue 2 - February 2008: Agribusiness

Essential oils for sustainable job alternatives

The Witch Doctor traditionally in Africa has been the expert on plant extracts and their various uses either for treating a specific medical condition or to induce a specific condition in someone. Witch doctors or Sangomas, as they are known in South Africa, have been able to treat a very wide range of medical conditions due to the rich biodiversity of the region. The term used for this in East Africa, was “Putting the magic on someone”.

Putting the magic
The same thing, we are informed, occurred in Europe in the past. Historically, some exponents of the art were burnt at the stake. Fortunately, over a period of some five millennia up to the present day, information has been filtered and sifted so the use of potions does not necessarily invoke the death sentence. Many plant extract are used in everyday modern medicine. Ancient Egyptians used chamomile as a remedy for stomach cramps. In Europe, chamomile tea has been used as a mild sedative for centuries. It has also been used to relieve discomfort in cases of sunburn. We are all aware of the use of plant extracts. In Europe, the discomfort caused by a stinging nettle can be relieved by squeezing the juice of dock leaves on the area affected. In Lesotho, you might use lengana leaves as a decongestant. Numerous other plant extract remedies are in use throughout the world.

Essential oils
BioAfrica is in the business of growing, extracting and marketing essential oils which are used in perfumes, cosmetics, food and drink flavouring, incense and cleaning products. Due to the rich biodiversity of South Africa, a wide range of essential oil crops can be grown.

In addition to our wholly owned farms, we have developed a system of contract out-grower farmers throughout the region and we encourage linkages with new emerging black farmers. We enter into a contract with the farmer, sharing the cost of crop establishment and any risk of failure. Product extraction is carried out on site by a team of company personnel. This provides on the job training for the farmer. Profits are then shared between the farmer and the company.

BioAfrica designs and builds extraction machinery and giant one ton microwave ovens for extracting essential oils by steam distillation. In most cases the biomass residue is used as fuel for the extraction process.

The company has developed a successful line of cosmetics and health care aids which presently is directed to the mass markets. Our sales team is predominantly young black women some of whom have dropped out of school due to becoming pregnant; some have HIV parents or older HIV siblings who needed to be looked after. Some are looking after younger siblings in families where parents have died. Most of the team are unable to hold down a regular job due to commitments place upon them by their families or society, and are usually, extremely poor. However, the incentive to work, for most of them is not financial. They want to be involved in something that can take them out of the family home, even if for just a few hours a day, just to lead the semblance of a normal life. If you have an HIV patient at home, do not expect to see many visitors.

Further development
A continuing challenge for BioAfrica is to source funding so as to enable new emerging black farmers to become part of the essential oils industry within South Africa. There are number of advantages to growing essential oil crops in the region. Many of these crops command the highest world market prices. Many of these are perennials, only requiring replanting every several years. The expertise in crop production, extraction and marketing has been well established over a number of years by BioAfrica and, through our partnership approach, this experience and knowledge is available to new farmers. With the help of others, BioAfrica would like to set-up a fund to assist emerging farmers with their initial steps into the industry.

Steph Hartung is CEO, BioAfrica.
Contact information.

  • United Nations
  • United Nations Environment Programme