Benzoin grows wild and is extracted as a gum, or 'tears', from Styrax tonkinensis trees by villagers in the Phongsaly and Houaphanh provinces of Laos. Approximately 40,000 people live in about 150 villages in this region. The villagers are mostly farmers. Benzoin collection provides additional income to their staple crops of rice and vegetables.
Education is highly valued by the people of Northern Laos. Though primary education facilities in this area are generally adequate, the number of secondary schools is insufficient. Many parents are forced to move their families or to send their children away. The rural exodus threatens the fabric of social cohesion here and the future of a workforce for benzoin collection.
Addressing this, Givaudan entered into a unique partnership with Agroforex, a Laos-based company which arranges the gum collection from local communities, and Biolandes, which imports and processes the gum into a resinoid that is used by Givaudan.
The Laos project aims to help develop the communities at the centre of benzoin gum extraction and thus ensure a sustainable supply of the raw material. As part of the programme, Givaudan financed the building of a secondary school and the training of teachers for the school over three years.
Givaudan also worked with Agroforex to improve the long-term management of the mountain forest ecosystem. A technical course on production for village communities is contributing to improving Styrax tonkinensis planting and benzoin collection by teaching intercropping with rice and red ginger. This offers local people further sources of income as the exclusive Red Ginger Essential Oil has now been added to Givaudan's palette of ingredients.