Lemongrass farmers do some research into the essential oils market

The Zizamele Co-op, led by our Chairperson Mam’ Nolesile, paid a research visit to Essential Amathole on the scenic mountains of the Hogsback. Essential Amathole’s profile describes it as a producer in a range of organic essential oils and medicinal plant extracts for the global market. The aim of the research visit was to get more information about the process of the production of essential oils to determine whether or not this could be a profitable way in which to expand our production range.

After going through the indoor formalities, the team had to brave the freezing temperatures and the rain as it went about visiting the fields, nurseries and, in Ian’s words, the ‘baby distillers’ and the ‘giant distillers’

Filling the 'baby' distillation machine

The giant distillation machine

The highlight of the day was the distillation of the Lemongrass, Rose Geranium and Rosemary that had been harvested from the fields and the nursery belonging to the Zizamele Co-op. The Rose Geranium and Rosemary instantly produced results while the Lemongrass had a sting in its tale. Having gone through the distillation process, we were disappointed to see only water trickling out of the distillation outlet. Seeing the ‘cooked’ Lemongrass being dumped in the compost heap was a demoralising sight. However, Xolani (the Essential Amathole expert distiller) was not one to give up and he retrieved the Lemongrass and distilled it for the second time. This time around it was an elating sight as the volume produced was even more than for the first two plants (although this was still only 5ml, about a teaspoon, from 7kg of plant matter).

Inspecting the distilled lemongrass oil

Chatting to Ian in their nursery in the freezing Hogsback temperatures

Lessons learnt from the research visit were that the prices of essential oils are volatile on the market and are not very high. Particularly for Lemongrass oil, a market that has been captured by the Indian market and where prices are considerably low. It seems that the fresh leaf market that we are already selling to is a good one for us to continue to supply. We will look into buying a small distiller, just for the produce wasted through mould and rust. We will also be exploring the production of soaps and moisturisers in which to use these oils. If it proves to be viable, the soap making business could be set-up as a separate micro-enterprise venture.

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