Rwandan Patchouli: First Fair Trade Fragrance From Africa
Celine Roche is the vice president of Sales and Marketing for natural ingredients at Mane, USA, the American division of a top global fragrance company. She is also a New York based graduate of the Landmark Forum. Out of her participation in Landmark Education’s Self-Expression and Leadership and program, Roche translated her commitment to Fair Trade and making a difference into a concrete project that is already making a difference for 800 workers in Rwanda.
Fair trade is both a social movement and a model for economic development where workers are paid a fair trade, brought into their business as stakeholders, and social and environmental standards are observed in the development of a wide variety of goods. Fair trade practices have blossomed among many food products and hand crafts; however, it is almost nonexistent in the fragrance industry. Roche became determined to change this, and her company has gotten behind her vision to produce fair trade fragrance products.
Two years ago, two communities in Rwanda were starting to plant patchouli, but they had no western market for the product and there was no fair trade agreement. Through Roche, Mane is now the community’s partner, and Roche worked with the International Trade Center (ITC) of Geneva, a United Nations organization, to set up fair trade practices. Roche recently spent a week in Rwanda last October as the oil began to be produced.
The two Rwandan communities now have over 800 workers working in the planting, while a local company named Epcher is working closely with the community to extract the oil as the product produced rapidly approaches mass market quality. In the meantime, Mane is buying the oil the workers are now making to get the project off the ground. Most patchouli oil worldwide is produced in Indonesia, and it has almost no history in Africa, so this is something entirely new for the Rwandan communities. Plans are in place for two top leaders of the Rwandan operation to come this spring to Mane’s main offices in France for further training.
Roche realized when she took the Self-Expression and Leadership program in the fall of 2006 that she really could do this and that she was the one to make it happen. She credits the program with providing powerful training in being accountable and producing results.
New opportunities are now opening up for fair trade fragrance production. Roche is meeting with ITC in Geneva this April to discuss new projects in Ethiopia and Sierra Leone, and she has a supplier in Brazil that also wishes to get involved. Meanwhile, the first patchouli oil from Rwanda is expected to reach the market at the end of this year.