Exporting SA geranium oil

21 May 2003

The geranium, historically one of South Africa’s earliest exports, is once more bringing trade to the country. In a landmark deal for SA’s budding bio-extract industry, half a ton of essential oil extracted from geraniums organically grown in South Africa has been exported to a major international cosmetics brand.

Biosys Plant Extracts (BPE), formed by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and part-owned by British company Biosys Ltd, announced this week that it had secured the export order, BPE’s biggest deal so far, from a US-based cosmetics company.

Geranium aromatherapy oil BPE MD Robin Learmonth told the SA Press Association (Sapa) that his company was confident that South Africa had the capability to produce a wide range of high-quality, international standard oils and to become a major player in the US$5-billion a year global essential oils market.

BPE plans to buy essential oils from community-driven projects on the same terms as from commercial farmers, Learmonth told Sapa. “Today we are working with a diverse grower platform, with farmers producing from George in the south-eastern Cape to as far north as Malawi.

“The new company, through the sales and marketing activities of its international owner, is building long-term sustainable markets for its plant products, a critical requirement for farmers looking to invest in this dynamic sector.”

Essential oils are used in the production of expensive perfumes and personal healthcare products, as well as by the food and aromatherapy industries.

Learmonth said he believed that the export of essential oils from South Africa would treble within two years.

According to Business Day, the CSIR, which developed the proprietary technology being used by BPE’s producers to extract the essential oil from leaves and flowers, will be paid a percentage on BPE sales over the next 10 years, as well as a fixed fee for each distillation plant built.

Geraniums (genus Pelargonium), aptly described as living potpourri for the home, are not grown for their flowers but for their scent. They are almost entirely native to South Africa, and became popular with Victorians when colonists brought them back to Britain. The French began commercial production of geranium oil in the early 19th century.

SouthAfrica.info reporter