Turkish rose farmers struggle to keep tradition alive

Thu Jul 2, 2015 7:26am EDT
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By Ayla Jean Yackley

ISPARTA, Turkey (Reuters) - Many of the workers in the bright-pink fields in this southwest Turkish province have an unexpected connection with the flowers they are tending. They are Syrian refugees working as itinerant laborers during Turkey's harvest of its prized Damascus rose.

The harvest, set to end this weekend, transforms 16 million square m (4,000 acres) of land into beds of pink and perfumes the air around the town of Isparta, the world's biggest producer of Damascus roses and their costly oil, each June.

Isparta still supplies Mecca's Grand Mosque, as well as French luxury brands that use the oil as a base for fragrances.

Four tonnes of rose -- roughly 2 million flowers -- are required to produce 1 kg (2.2 lb) of rose absolute essence, which sells for about 7,500 euros ($8,300), or 10,000 euros if it's from organic crop. Exports are valued at 15 million euros.

The oil is a strategic product for perfume makers, serving as the base for most floral fragrances to prolong the scent.

The six-week harvest is a "race against time," said Nuri Ercetin, who runs a rose-oil plant in Isparta that his father established in 1958. This year an April frost hit the crop, expected to be about 6,000 tonnes, cutting it by 20 percent.

"We cannot obtain enough flowers, and there is a lack of a concerted effort to preserve the business, so it is in danger."

France's Givenchy and Britain's Liz Earle procured Ercetin's roses for limited-edition fragrances, and he works with New York-based International Flavors & Fragrances, one of the worlds' biggest perfume-makers.   Continued...