Rose farmers struggle to keep tradition alive

2015-07-02 18:07

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Isparta - 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 labourers during Turkey's harvest of its prized Damascus rose.

The harvest, set to end this weekend, transforms 16 million square m 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 tons of rose - roughly 2 million flowers - are required to produce 1 kg of rose absolute essence, which sells for about €7 500 or €10 000 if it's from organic crop. Exports are valued at €15m.

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 tons, cutting it by 20%.

"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.

But it is hard work producing the oil from the 7,500 tonnes of flowers that is almost entirely shipped overseas. Pickers are up at sunrise before the heat of the day burns off dew and must rush their product to processing plants within two hours.


Despite the steady rise in demand from a global fragrance industry worth almost $40 billion, Turkish output has declined for two decades and the tradition of rose cultivation is fading.

A shrinking population - true for much of Turkey's rural communities amid rapid urbanisation - prefers to raise less labour-intensive products, like cherries and peaches for export, said rose growers. Ageing rose bushes are another culprit.

Larger producers now employ migrant farm labourers including Syrian refugees. Turkey harbours nearly 2 million people from Syria who have escaped the violence that erupted there in 2011 and are increasingly working in low-paying agricultural jobs.

There is no rose industry in war-torn Syria. Turkey has a 60% share of the market, while Bulgaria controls the rest.

Named for the ancient Syrian capital, the 30-petal Damascus rose, also called Damascena or Damask, is one of just a handful of the 150 species of roses from which oil can be extracted.

It may have first been brought from Syria to Europe by Crusaders in the 13th century. Shakespeare writes of "gloves as sweet as damask roses" in "A Winter's Tale".

Locally, the flower was cherished for its delicate taste and medicinal qualities, said Banu Ozden of the Culinary Arts Centre, which seeks to preserve Turkish food heritage.

But rose is now viewed as old-fashioned, she said, surviving in the odd dessert, like the eponymous "gullac," or the starchy Turkish delight confection. "It may not die now, but it might not survive another 20 years," Ozden said.

Read more on:    turkey  |  agriculture

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.
NEXT ON NEWS24X publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
1 comment
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.