Sweet lavender turns sour for Bulgarian farmers

Fields of purple pepper the landscape of central Bulgaria.

With a climate matching that of Provence, partnered with cheap labour and an abundance of arable land, Bulgaria's lavender fields have expanded sixfold to some 20,000 hectares since 2010, outpacing France.

While the production of lavender oil soared ten times to as much as 600 tonnes a year in 2020.

Filip Lissicharov's company grows 160 hectares of certified organic lavender.

"The future for Bulgaria is to produce quality lavender oil, which meets standards to position itself on the market - that will put us on the same level as France which has already had this image."

But the sudden success hasn't come without problems.

After surging in 2018 to over 120 euros per kilogram, the average price of lavender oil halved to about 60 euros last year, according to agriculture ministry data.

Nikolay Valkanov is a manager at Inteliagro Consultancy, an organization which supports sustainable and competitive agriculture.

"The Bulgarian production grew so fast that it began to outpace demand, which automatically led to a drop in the price."

Quality has also been a challenge.

Most of Bulgaria's new lavender fields were planted in the country's northeast, where grain producers switched to lavender looking for better returns.

But they often lacked the proper skills and planted non-certified varieties.

While the oil produced by traditional producers in central Bulgaria meets the high standards required by the cosmetic industry, quality varies among producers in the northeast.

Even so, the country's farmers are sure they scent a business opportunity.

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