Sunday, January 24, 2010

Lemongrass, Ylang ylang and verdant dreams for Haiti

Lemongrass plantation - Malaysia

I've always been a dreamer and an optimist. Time to move forward with the project I touched upon in my last blog.

Backstory: I dropped the ball in September of 2008 when I was scheduling a lunch with someone from the biggest vetiver distillation company in Haiti. That week, and the week following, huge storms swept Haiti, causing horrific flooding and loss of life. I figured to just back off as she took care of business, and I just felt superfluous to the problems they/she were facing, and lost contact with her.

As I wrote recently, I'm going to direct efforts into reforestation efforts in Haiti, as soon as I can connect with a local agency. They're impossible to contact this week, but I'll keep at it. I'm also going to recontact my distillation connection for several reasons.

I feel terrible I just gave up when faced with the situation in 2008. I guess I suffer from PTSD from all the hurricanes we get here in Florida, and I just needed some distance from the horrors of similar destruction. Human weakness, I suppose.

This week a student called me to follow up on some talks we had earlier this year - she's received a grant to look into establishing distillation of fragrant plants here in Florida. She wants to pick my brain about some agricultural directions and details and scenarios, and we're both in agreement that the effort can be expanded to Haiti in the second phase.

Lemongrass and ylang ylang are the first plants on our agenda. We'll be researching all of the agronomic and market aspects of this effort, and we know we'll have a lot of hurdles to jump over with the logistics. I'll also involve Natural Perfumers Guild members in the effort at a later date.

I researched a bit about the vetiver distillation plant in Haiti: the owner has about 25,000 families that are part of his work team. They harvest the vetiver and bring it to his plant. I can only imagine what shape his plant is in right now, and the immediate physical and economic fate of those tens of thousands of familis. He expressed grave concerns back in 2000 about the lack of infrastructure - horrid dirt roads for transport - and sporadic, rationed electricity that shut down the plant frequently.

In 2004 he asked, as part of group of businesspeople, for the US to intervene with military help because of the growing violence in the area.

I could take it easy, and just work with Elise here on the Florida aspect, but those who know me know I'm not the type to take it easy. Elise is a very grounded person who is not shy about quietly gong about the business of setting things right.  We'll make a good team on this, me the silent partner - except for my blogging here - as the project is hers and I'm just advising from the sidelines.

But, it does make me feel good insofar as that his week was fruitless for me in my attempts to contact the Green Leaves folks, but Elise and I are sitting down on Tuesday and setting up a game plan.

In my dreams, thousands or tens of thousands of individuals all over the world are doing such brainstorming now, for all sorts of different projects to help the people of Haiti.

And that businessman I mentioned earlier? He was a pioneer in bringing essential oil production to Rwanda years ago, assisting in the establishment of patchouli plantations and distillation units, bring jobs and money to the people of that war-ravaged land.
What goes around, comes around.


  1. great article Anya.....keep us posted if there is any way the rest of us can help!

  2. Thanks for this, Anya. As you know, we are very much on the same page regarding the project. I look forward to our collaboration!

  3. Great post, Anya! I met someone with Operation Green Leaves years ago when doing some environmental work in S FL. They would be great to work with. I have also supported Heifer International's work in Haiti, where they plant trees for families instead of (or in addition to) giving livestock. Maybe there is opportunity for Haitians to grow other tropical healing plants? Let us know how we can help! -Susan in N FL

  4. A good post, and a very thougtful effort.
    I think it would be so wonderful if one day the Haitian people were running and owning their very own distallation units and producing the essential oils themselves for fair-traded export.
    What a great long-term committment for the country that would be - to allow Haiti and the Hatian people to be completely self-sufficient in all areas possible - especially when it comes to their natural resources which are so valued throughout the world.

  5. Hi Ambrosia

    Thanks for the offer! I'll put the word out as we move further along.

  6. Hi Elise
    The meeting went great today, and as you can see, got me off in another project, the great Neroli Mystery ;-)

  7. Hi Susan

    Thanks for the offer! Elise gets up to Gainesville regularly, maybe you can hook up. I intro'd you two on FB recently.

  8. Amanda, as far as I know, all the current distillation companies in Haiti are Haitian owned. Everyone I know wants to move forward to assist the Haitians in being self-governed and self-sufficient, so that's the plan.


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