Growers of trees from which essential oils are extracted in Mzimba are set to reap benefits from oils which have a huge market potential in Europe and South Africa.
This follows the receipt of $300 000 (about K220 million) from United States Agency for International Development (USaid) on Thursday by Mzimba-based Citrefine Plantations Limited (CPL), which is engaged in essential oils extraction.
The funding is under what is called Protecting Ecosystems and Restoring Forests in Malawi (Perform) project.
Out-growers will benefit because they will be contracted to grow trees that contain essential oils, which are natural oil and have numerous health benefits,
according to experts.
Malawi has a huge opportunity to venture into big scale exports of essential oils due to their demand abroad, according to Ministry of Industry and Trade.
Currently, Malawi has one company, CPL, in the Viphya Plantations in Mzimba, popularly known as Chikangawa Forest, that extracts essential oils from the leaves of trees and plants through a process called steam distillation.
CPL managing director Tanya Clarke said in an interview after receiving the funding the project will run for three years to support out-growers in management of essential oil trees among them Corymbia Citriodora.
“The project will provide growers with free essential oil tree seedlings and agriculture extension services, among others,” she said, adding that currently, the plantation produces 700 000 seedlings of which 30 000 go to the out-growers annually.
She said 99 percent of the essential oils produced through steam distillation at the plantation are exported raw and the one percent remains in the country.
“Trees are an excellent cash crop. They are not just for firewood,” said Clarke.
On his part, chairperson of the out-growers cooperative, Daniel Mhone, said they are looking forward to the launch of the project on February 9, which will see the growers develop 30 hectares of essential oil trees along with increased tree planting on the company’s plantation in the next three years.
“This project will help in changing our socio-economic status,” he said.
Mzimba district forestry officer Laston Phiri said the project will also address climate change challenges fuelled by deforestation in the district.
He bemoaned rampant deforestation in the Viphya Plantation, describing the situation as bad.
The company began in 2009 and plants its own trees in the Viphya forest to produce a lemon eucalyptus oil for the export market that is used in the pharmaceutical, cosmetic and cleaning industries.
The essential oil industry is a multi-million dollar industry worldwide and has great potential as certain plants or tree species are suitable for certain climates and altitudes.