How a Moroccan start-up invests in the eco-extraction of organic aromatic and medicinal plants

Mustapha Danouane Aromatic Plants • “Save the Forest” is the project developed by Mustapha Danouane, an engineer and former MRE, through his TPE Ecoquality incubated at the innovation city of Souss Massa.• Its model is based on the establishment of an aggregation of small farmers and payment for ecosystem services. • It is about putting an end to the uprooting of aromatic and medicinal plants for the development of their culture and their picking with green methods. The demand for organic aromatic and medicinal plants is growing by 10 to 15% per year. Internationally, the aromatic plants sector represents 32 billion dollars in turnover with 6% growth per year. That of essential oils generates for its part 9.5 billion dollars per year and a development which should evolve by 14% by 2026. In Morocco, aromatic and medicinal species are estimated at 500, even 600 species, a large number of which are endemic. The Kingdom has, moreover, an ancestral know-how which has been preserved for centuries for the extraction of aromas intended for perfumery and for medication by plants. In terms of the export of aromatic and medicinal plants, Morocco is ranked 12th in the world with 52,000 tonnes of plants and 5,000 tonnes of oils, the majority of which is exported in bulk. Nearly 100 species are thus exported in the form of dried plants for the needs of herbalism and food flavorings. More than twenty species are used for the production of essential oils or other aromatic extracts mainly dedicated to the perfume and cosmetics industry, as well as for the formulation of aromas and the preparation of hygiene products. However, the activity is almost exclusively wild picking, which represents 98% of the volumes sold. Also, the sector is characterized by overexploitation and degradation of natural resources due to grubbing-up. It is also marked by the weak organization of farmers and a limited economic impact on this socio-professional category. However, this trade has great potential, these products being used in several industries including the food industry, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, aromatherapy and perfumery in particular. Consumers increasingly looking for products made from natural inputs. It is in particular the strong potential to be developed in this sector that prompted Mustapha Danouane, an engineer, laureate of the Kaiserslautern engineering school in Germany, to take an interest in this sector. Former MRE, the entrepreneur has returned to the country since 2011. Expert in organic farming and sustainable development, the investor has not been idle since his return to Morocco. He is the president of the regional association of organic producers in the South zone. He has also been a producer and exporter of fruits and vegetables, as well as organic aromatic and medicinal plants since 2012. Since 2020, he has been developing the Save the Forest project for an eco-extraction of plants, in particular endemic thyme from the Souss Massa region. It is in this sense that the engineer created his start-up Ecoquality Maroc a year ago. A young shoot incubated in the innovation city Souss Massa in Agadir since February 2021. The eco-extraction of endemic aromatic and medicinal plants with green methods is the heart of its activity. “It is a question of responding to the problems which slow down the development of the sector. The transformation of aromatic and medicinal plants is done abroad (Europe, USA) before their marketing to various manufacturers. No valuation is carried out locally. There are also the conventional methods of cultivating crops which generate negative repercussions on the environment, ”explains the engineer. His start-up, which aims to have a strong social and environmental impact, aims to encourage small farmers to cultivate aromatic and medicinal plants and to avoid spontaneous uprooting. Its incentive commitment is to pay farmers 50% more than market prices. On the organizational level, its model is based on the establishment of an aggregation of small farmers and a payment for ecosystem services (PES). “It is both a tool for improving income and a vector for job creation in the rural world. We plan to create 6 permanent positions per hectare. It is also a tool for preserving the environment thanks to a payment that will be reinvested for the regeneration of natural ecosystems, ”explains Mr. Danouane. For now, the start-up has invested to set an example in agricultural land in the province of Chtouka Ait Baha in the municipality of Belfaa to produce aromatic plants. “We are in the process of developing innovative extraction methods with the laboratory of our incubator Cité de l’Innovation Souss-Massa”, indicates in this context the expert in agriculture.