From March to April, the picking of lime blossoms enabled many families and farmers to earn a living due to the ancestral process of distillation in flower water and the more industrialized neroli oil.
Near the center of Nabeul in northeastern Tunisia, the aroma of flowers permeates the arteries. The rose season has just begun. They are sold in bulk with the blossoms of limes. There are bitter fruits on these orange trees, and the picking is in full swing. On every street corner, the family provides these small bottles of blooming water.
Samira Ben Rhaiem and her mother Saïda are looking for drivers, hoping to see them stop to buy something.Their bottle of lime water, also called Zal Roses and rose water were placed on a small table on the side of the road. “My grandmother taught me to distill very early. We have a few lime trees in our garden. This is the case in almost every family in the area. The water is used for cooking or medicine, but we also sell it to individuals “, She explained.
This year, due to the Covid-19 crisis, it had to lower its prices. It also collects some flowers provided by manufacturers and provides them to manufacturers who use them to extract the neroli oil that French perfumers dream of. The houses of Guerlain and Azzaro, especially in Tunisia, source their supplies to make perfumes.
In this area of Cap Bon, bitter orange blossoms are real «Or blanc» The company has nearly 3,000 families, of which 1,500 farmers grow plants on 450 hectares. The mild coastal climate is suitable for this robust tree, which can survive for centuries, and its culture developed during the French Protectorate period.
Approximately 20% of flowers are used in the local market, and 80% are used by manufacturers. By 2020, the output of flowers will reach 2,100 tons, increasing from the annual average of 1,450 tons in the past ten years to 1,600 tons.
Since the 1980s, the market for neroli oil has been booming, and the manufacturer mainly cooperates with the French city of Grasse and the high-end perfume department. “The orange blossom of Tunisia is special because it is stronger than Morocco or Egypt. We have a good reputation in the market”, Chedly Belkhodja explained that in the 1970s his family took over the distillation and extraction plant established by a Frenchman in 1903. In addition to this luxury market, neroli seed oil has benefited from the growth of aromatherapy in recent years.
However, this success has its dark side. In a period of strong international market demand, the price of neroli oil reached 3,000 euros per kilogram. The success of leading to price fluctuations and encouraging speculation has annoyed small producers. The latter bears the brunt of the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic: the closure of the border has put pressure on the activities of duty-free shops, which are the main export destinations for high-end perfumes. In this case, the demand for neroli oil has fallen, and speculators are pushing down prices.
Chérif Hamadi, 67, actively picks flowers with his wife in the bitter orange garden of Bir Challouf, and then blooms. “This is a disaster for two quarters because we can no longer sell stocks, and the goods we managed to sell sold for eight dinars at very low prices. [2,40 euros] Rauzna [unité de mesure qui équivaut à une pesée de 4 kilos] »He explained. “Sometimes, speculators intervene between us and collectors and offer to buy stocks quickly at a low price and then resell them at a higher price”, He added.
For Slim Zouari, representative of the Union of Agriculture and Fisheries (UTAP) of Naples Tunisia (UTAP), farmers at the bottom of the chain suffered “Department Lack of Organization”. He still remembered that Tunisia had a regional orange blossom producing country cooperative, and the price was stable at that time. “But this runs counter to market liberalization. So it is gradually abandoned”, He specified.
Faced with this situation, some people choose to only turn to the less volatile local market and turn to flower water distillation. This is the case with Rania Mansour, 36, who works between four stills installed in the garage of the house in Nabeul. A mixture of copper and pottery, they allow the flowers to be distilled using traditional methods. This young woman inherited this expertise from her grandmother and assembled it herself to produce 500 liters of flower water every year.
She founded the Ezemnia project in 2016, dedicated to the sales of local products in Tunisia. “There is a saying that once you install a still in your home, you cannot take it out, otherwise it will bring bad luck. Therefore, we have an obligation to perpetuate this tradition”, Rania Mansour is joking. Now, it provides food to delicatessen stores and individuals, and hopes to make its brand a model for the development of regional brands.
“Ultimately, we hope that the coastal villages and all producers of Zhar, Nabeul, will become a well-known area in the Grasse area. This is an intangible heritage and must be absolutely protected”, Witness Rached Khayati, a member of the Nabeul City Defence Association.