ECO AGRICULTURAL CONNECTIONS
In February 1999, I flew to Costa Rica dreaming of distilling a high quality essential oil in a different system of production. A system that is supportive of environmental concerns while supporting the
social and economic concerns of the communities involved in the production of
essential oil bearing plants.
I believe a great deal in the potential of essential oil production to assist
in the successful use of ecoagriculture farming techniques in both the tropics,
along with right here in North America. I am not a scientist, agronomist or engineer. I am a young man who wants to be different, wants to contribute to more than just my retirement savings plan and am willing
to try to make my dreams come true.
Essential oils are powerful natural wonders. Most anyone who has come across a truly pure and complete oil will attest to
that. But as most of us know, all oils are not created equal. Most times when
people discuss what makes up a high quality they look at very important concerns
such as plant species, variety, distillation method, geographical location, harvesting
technique and timing, along with preparation of plant material prior to distillation.
In recent years organic production has also become a focus for some producers,
and a major focus for many essential oil buyers.
EcoAgriculture is an extension of organic practices. When I became interested
in distillation I started looking at what it would take to produce an exceptional
quality essential oil. I also looked at what the impact of producing an essential
oil on a commercial level has on the environment. Essential oil production can
be destructive. It can also be poisoning and polluting. But if one looks to create
circles in what they are doing to try and reduce these impacts, many solutions
can be found.
So what is EcoAgriculture? EcoAgriculture, as I see it, is the active stewardship of land and its ecosystem to help establish a productive
and sustainable harvest from within that ecosystem. In a sentence ecoagriculture is about as far from conventional monoculture
as one can get. If you visit a farm in the tropics that is working with ecoagricultural
practices the first thing you may say is, “where is the farm?”You will find yourself
lost in a jungle of exotic hardwoods growing along such spices as cinnamon, black
pepper and allspice.
Mixed in with exotic tropical flowers and the prized ylang ylang and vanilla.
The soil is rarely exposed and the huge amount of foliage growth is always returned
to the earth. Vetiver is often seen, used as an impressive tool in soil erosion
prevention. Birds sing above in a melody that suggests they are not only happy,
but in a blissful state of harmony.
Essential oil production can become a part of this model, offering the farmer
an opportunity to diversify what they are doing by providing a value-added product.
Another interesting thought in trading essential oil versus the herb or spice
is that you are no longer trading organic matter, but instead an essence. This
frees up that organic matter after distillation to be integrated into composting
practices, helping to build the soil. Along with this, development work is being
done to use both essential oils and hydrosols for natural pesticides when needed.
So why is this type of agriculture not more common? I think the bottom line comes down to 3 fundamental reasons.
2. Implementation Challenges
3. Profitability and Economics
Like most efforts that attempt to change the way people do things the first and
most fundamental necessity for adaptation to that change is education. In regards
to agriculture, farmers have been educated in traditional methods for well over
100 years in most tropical countries. This makes the traditional way of thinking
very deep rooted in their farming practices.
Many of these practices have come from the western world. A world that is very
different than the tropics. Soils in the tropics deplete very quickly. Humus does not accumulate as plant material decomposes so quickly the jungle
just eats it up. Soil erosion is a major problem as the rains in this part of
the world can be very intense. Agrochemicals are used in alarming quantities to deal with these depletion issues, often chemicals that have been banned in the western world.
It takes progressive farmers, committed to what they believe to be “the right
way to work with the land”as a starting point for change. These farmers then
become the example for a new method and with their success comes interest from
other farmers. Access to information is a big part of the education equation.
I have found that many farmers are looking for a new way to do things and if they see an example of success they are much more likely to consider switching their methods.
EcoAgriculture is not easy. In fact it is a lot harder than any traditional method of working the land. It requires more labor, more education, more patience, and all for generally less production.
Doesn’t seem to make much economic sense does it? Maybe not, especially for
all farmers. I can’t see the wheat farmers of the Canadian prairies switching
over any time soon. But this is not the prairies, this is the jungle, and the
elements in the two environments are about as different as monoculture and ecoagriculture.
EcoAgriculture creates an intimate relationship between the farmer and his crops. It puts people back to work on the farm instead of driving them to our over populated cities.
Instead of one farmer working hundreds of acres and relying on equipment that can sometimes cost the farmer his farm, this system relies on people and nature. Harvesting is done by hand, not machine, as are many other functions of the farm. It strives to provide a decent living to the people involved and doesn’t ask them to abandon their land, but instead to develop a new relationship with it.
The jungle and the tropics is all about biodiversity. This is why we need to
try and hold on to our rain forests. This is also what the plants of this region
thrive in, a complex and balanced ecosystem.
By farming in a biodiverse way you are giving the plant not only what they seem to want, but also potentially what they need to survive naturally, or chemically free in this environment. Resistance to disease and fungus seems to be improved, with each plant species contributing to the ecosystem in its own way.
Special attention needs to be made to the relationship between plants and trees, their spacing, the shading of the trees and how those relationships will grow and change as the different plants mature. The farmer needs to think not only of this years crop, but also how his crop will change 5 or 10 years from now.
Because of the intense activity and fast growth of life in the tropics, in a
10 year period a barren, cleared section of land can be converted to an active
and established ecoagricultural farm that supports a huge diversity of life. This
is a tremendous contributor to the regeneration of the vast spaces of cleared
rain forests that have become so dominant in the tropics.
This is a niche product, offered to a niche market. The quantities are smaller, the quality is high, and so the customers who these products appeal to support the cost of there
production. Fortunately, today we have the internet. A grand tool in accessing
niche markets like never before. I believe it will be this medium that will allow
the success of this model by adapting the traditional ways of commerce in this
trade and going as much as possible direct to the customer, selling in smaller
quantities at a fair profit.
Of course, not every farmer is a marketer, nor do they want to be. This is where
grower cooperatives can work very well. A group of progressive farmers can come
together to support there work, marketing their products together while working
with others that can assist in taking their products to the customer. It is through
these different systems of distribution that we strive to find a successful economic
Ultimately, you the customer will decide, because it is your support that will make these farmers successful. With the support of people who value organic production and the diversification of our farming practices this system will give us a choice very different from monoculture and agrochemically based production.
I am hopeful that the Aromatherapy community will embrace these practices and see the intrinsic value in producing a vibrant, high quality product, be it a whole herb, spice or a beautiful and highly energetic, organic essential oil.
Essential Aura Aromatics provides exceptional quality essential oils to the World
and supports an EcoAgricultural approach to the production of our products. Through
sustainable distillation we provide benefits to “People and the Land.”
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