Over a million hectares of rosemary in Morocco
Essential to every Moroccan household and available in every single spice store in the country, rosemary is a plant deeply rooted in Moroccan tradition. The acreage and volumes are enormous, and the country is one of the leading producers and exporters of this plant. Karim Belkheir Goutr, CEO of 4 Seasons Mediterranean Aromas, tells the saga of rosemary in Morocco.
Karim says, "Rosemary is a super herb available in abundance in the ecosystems of the Mediterranean basin. It's very rich in active principles and natural preservatives. For centuries, it was used by our ancestors for its dietary and health benefits. Today, it is still produced in abundance, on over a million hectares, and is used in the production process of several industries, including cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and food. We have made great strides in modernizing this sector, and it is now among the flagship products of Moroccan agricultural exports."
A recent restructuring of the industry
The rosemary areas are spread all over the Moroccan map. "This plant is highly resistant to the climate extremes. In Morocco, it grows just as well in the snowy mountains at negative temperatures as in desert areas at 46 degrees. Most Moroccan rosemary is grown wild, spontaneously. The agricultural authorities supervise the harvesting stage, organizing auctions to allocate parcels to private companies. While this mode of production works well for certain uses, it has obvious limitations, such as abuse of harvesting, lack of traceability, and unsuitable handling storage conditions."
It was therefore imperative to take the next step in regulating this sector, especially in order to be able to supply the processing industries, and this was done some ten years ago.
As Karim recounts, "The Agricultural Development Agency has done a great deal of work to develop and modernize this sector. It introduced a framework to production by cultivation, with strict regulations, allowing the selection of varieties, certification, traceability, and the development of rosemary by-products. USAID's support was important in this process, as it enabled us to adopt a regulatory model and best practices similar to that of the USA. The area involved in this production method is around 10,000 hectares, and it is the source of rosemary for sophisticated use such as botanic extraction of acids."
Moroccan rosemary is rich in carnosic acid
"At Seasons Mediterranean Aromas we have been at the heart of this process," says Karim. The grower argues, "I've been working in the sector for 21 years, long before the advent of this structuring. We have the advantage of integrated operation since we run both a nursery and a production and export company. The nursery has developed over 26 rosemary varieties, suitable for different locations and uses, varieties for production in shade or under bright sun, for fresh or dry use, for oil or antioxidant extraction, and wild or cultivated production. As for our production company, it guarantees total traceability, and the best conditions of hygiene, in the handling, cutting, harvesting, drying, and storage, thus avoiding any source of contamination and making the product suitable for industrialists."
The drive to modernize the production of medicinal plants in Morocco, in this instance rosemary, has paid off, with Morocco becoming one of the world's leading sources of rosemary and its by-products, argues Karim. "We have a rich biodiversity and 9 ecosystems, and this is well known. In addition, plant selection and varietal development have enabled us to produce rosemary that is very rich in active principles and natural preservatives, notably carnosic acid, which is of interest to industrialists. While Tunisian rosemary, like wild Moroccan rosemary, contains, on average, between 1.5% and 2.6% of carnosic acid, Moroccan rosemary from selected plants and cultivated areas contains up to 6%."
Moroccan rosemary can, therefore, be used in a wide range of applications and industries, adds Karim, "It can be used in infusions, as a food supplement, or through the extraction of essential oils and botanical extraction. Through the latter, carnosic acid is used in many industries, such as cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, food, and animal food. Carnosic acid has a high capacity to improve the shelf life of foods."
The modernization of the sector In Morocco has created a favorable business climate for the medicinal plant ecosystem, concludes Karim, "Several botanical extraction companies have been created in Morocco in recent years. At Seasons Mediterranean Aromas, we are interested in working with these companies, and companies in the international market as well, under contract for a regular supply. Our export calendars for cultivated rosemary run from May to December; and all year long for wild rosemary"