Many women do not know their age, some do not know their name. They are part of the cheap labor force that collects Moroccan roses and compete in a market dominated by Bulgaria and Turkey.
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A rose picker receives a few cents on the dollar for every kilo of petals, just “the minimum to survive,” says Izza, who cannot spell her name and even does not know her age.
The woman wears her gloved hands to protect herself from the thorns and her head is covered against the warm spring sun of the “Valley of the Roses” in southern Morocco, where the harvest begins each day at dawn.
For Izza Ait Ammi Mouh, a Berber in her “40s” says she is not complaining. This seasonal work allows her to “feed the family”, thanks to the twenty kilos harvested per day during the flowering period of about a month.
In the spring, the persistent smell of the Damascus rose, a variety brought by some travelers in times of the caravan trade, covers the valley between the Atlas Mountains and the Sahara Desert.
Everything revolves around this flower: the name of the hotels, the color of the taxis, the cosmetic products of the countless shops, the necklaces proposed by children along the roads, the monumental sculpture that adorns the Kelaat roundabout. Mgouna and its annual festival, which attracted thousands of visitors before the coronavirus pandemic.
The distillation of the rose makes it possible to produce floral water and essential oil, sold in stores together with their cosmetic derivatives.
The gram of essential oil in a tiny box costs 170 dinars, that is, about $ 18,000 per kilo, which requires between 4 and 5 tons of flowers.
Rochdi Bouker, president of the interprofessional federation of Moroccan growers and processors (Fimarose), sees the rose as “an engine of local development”, betting on world fashion for natural raw materials and organic products.
Its objective is to obtain an ecological label for the entire valley, in order to value its roses in a market dominated by Bulgaria and Turkey, the first producers of perfume roses.
“We are lucky to be poor, we do not treat or treat very little (the flowers). Our valley is not impregnated with pesticides,” he says.
According to him, cooperative distillation must be supported “to improve living conditions and fight rural exodus.”
To increase income, it is necessary to “develop the derivatives that perform the most”: essential oil and an extract obtained by solvent that, once filtered, gives “the absolute” of the rose, highly appreciated by luxury perfumery.