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Indonesia: Securing a sustainable patchouli oil supply

From the fuzzy leaves of this unassuming plant comes one of perfume’s most powerful and iconic ingredients: patchouli oil. How Givaudan is securing a sustainable supply of patchouli on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi.

Patchouli plants

The name patchouli comes from old Tamil words meaning ‘green leaf’. The bushy plant, native to the tropical regions of Asia, belongs to the mint family ‘genus Pogostemon’ and is barely one metre high. Its fuzzy, aromatic leaves produce an oil whose powerful scent has been used for centuries in perfumery. Today, it inspires perfumers’ palettes in the creation of everything from fine fragrances to fabric care products.

Like all precious ingredients, patchouli oil is hard won. Just imagine: to obtain a single kilogram of essential oil, 200 times that amount of fresh leaves from patchouli plants must be collected in the fields. The fresh leaves are then air dried for several days during which they shrink to one third of their original weight before being distilled for a minimum of eight hours. The resulting essential oil – whose scent has been described as warm, deep, sensual and mysterious – is a key natural ingredient prized by perfumers for its powerful, earthy and long-lasting character.

Building relationships

To secure the supply of this precious natural ingredient, 90% of which comes from Indonesia, Givaudan has invested in a collection network comprising hundreds of individual smallholder producers on the island of Sulawesi since 2013. The holistic approach to sourcing focuses on being present at the origin of the raw material, building strong relationships with smallholder producers and supporting them in developing their business in a sustainable way.

“Being present at the source is the best way for us to secure a good quality supply of patchouli and to build a transparent supply chain but it’s only the first step. Establishing close working relationships with the individual growers and distillers is the essential ingredient for long-term success.”

Olivier, Head of Origination

Collaboration with Swisscontact

Patchouli is a key source of income for the producer households on Sulawesi. Givaudan’s dedicated field buyers, present on the island all year long, provide both technical advice and a regular sales outlet.

To further strengthen this collection network, Givaudan is collaborating with the international non-governmental organisation, Swisscontact. With funding from the Givaudan Foundation, and in partnership with the producers, their families and local government actors, the team are working on a multi-year project.
> www.swisscontact.org

Education and the environment

The goal? To improve the livelihoods of individual producer families while protecting precious natural resources on the island. Training programmes are offered to patchouli producers and their families to promote environmentally friendly production methods, along with education on nutrition and household income management. To date, close tro 1,000 households have received training on good agricultural practices and more than 320 operators on good distillation practices. The project will also involve the renovation of smallholder patchouli distillation units to improve energy efficiency and reduce firewood consumption.

Megan, Swisscontact Indonesia: “One of the aims of our project is to increase the adoption of sustainable patchouli oil production techniques and environmentally friendly practices through interactive field schools. When farmers apply best practices, they are able to increase both the quantity and quality of their patchouli oil, leading to long-term sustainability of the patchouli crop and stable incomes for the families.”

Shared-value approach

The project has so far provided training to over 900 local producer families on good nutritional practices, including advice on home gardening and the importance of nutrition, with the goal of enabling the households to grow their own food and sell the excess production for additional income. Training also covers good financial practices to further strengthen household management of budget, cash flow, planning and record keeping. The nutrition and finance training sessions target the family member who manages meal preparation and household finances – most often the women.

By promoting a shared-value approach to sourcing this precious natural ingredient, Givaudan is helping to grow strong roots for patchouli on Sulawesi for years to come.