Sustainable patchouli in Indonesia

Patchouli is one of the most important essential oils in perfumery and fine fragrances as a result of its unique and complex properties. Patchouli oil from Indonesia is widely considered the highest quality in the world, supplying more than 90% of the global market, and is grown by around 25,000 smallholder farmers.

Sustainable patchouli in Indonesia Sustainable patchouli in Indonesia

“It is really improving my life. Not only for me, but our workers also feel the benefit,”

Mr Paing, Patchouli producer

It is also an important crop for Unilever and used across many home and beauty & personal care brands, including Comfort and Lux*. That is why, in 2014, we worked with our supplier, Firmenich, to conduct a baseline study to identify current needs and develop a programme to help secure future supply.

Conducting a baseline study

Firmenich conducted a baseline study and collated both quantitative and qualitative data from 120 farmers in central Java.

The findings include the following:

  • Patchouli typically represented a modest proportion of farmers annual revenue (less than 25% on average)
  • Farmers were often unmotivated to grow patchouli because of unstable pricing
  • Farmers were tempted to grow other, more lucrative agricultural commodities such as palm oil and coffee
  • Sustainable practices were lacking
  • The patchouli supply chain is complex, with numerous parties involved.

Inclusive business

Using the findings, the programme – launched in July 2014 – aims to provide the following support:

  • Inclusive business – we structured the supply chain by creating farmers’ cooperatives in four sourcing areas. Sourcing directly from these areas enables full traceability while helping to improve practices and quality, and increases farmer income.
  • Sustainable practices – the programme promotes sustainable agricultural practices, with training provided for participants to learn best practices on nursery, cultivation, distillation and quality management.
  • Community care – the programme has supported the construction and maintenance of a kindergarten that has capacity for up to 100 children.
  • Distillation equipment and post-harvest activities – through the programme we have supported the improvement of the cooperative distillation unit using stainless materials and an efficient decantation system. Training was also provided on quality management as well as on how to improve distillation performance. Standard and easy quality test procedures have been taught to the partners for better monitoring.

“This project is a model for our other responsible sourcing projects around the world as it addresses the fundamental issues of the supply chain and builds social benefits around this,” says Sébastien Tissot, VP, Responsible Sourcing Strategy at Firmenich.

The programme also received an award from the Indonesian President at the Trade Expo 2016.

*Lux has started sourcing sustainable Patchouli from Indonesia for several of its fine fragrances in 2016. To date, this has been rolled out in some of LUX’s best-selling soaps available in South Asia, North Africa and Middle East and Africa.