Export Possibilities and Regulations for Aromatherapy Oils and Healing
Answered by: Conrad Richter
Question from: Trudie Snyman
Posted on: April 20, 2007

After years of experimenting with the growth of herbs we realised our dream and now own our farm long awaited. As a healer I have worked with alternative herbal treatments and now wish to grow herbs for medicinal purposes and aromatherapy oils. We live in South Africa in an area where almost all herbs can be grown successfully. We have 45 hectares of land and would like to know the export possibilities and the rules and regulations around medicinal herbs and aromatherapy oils.

With persistance and patience it is possible to do very well growing herbs for export. The world market for botanicals continues to grow. Each country has its own rules governing the importation and sale of herbal products, so you need to research each country that you hope to export to. But the impact of tightening regulation and changing market directions also makes this a hazardous time even for top growers if they are not also skilled at marketing and competent in regulatory matters. For example, Canada introduced new natural health products regulations a few years ago which have had a huge impact affecting virtually every sector of the natural health products industry. Even now key policies affecting Canada such as a bulk herb policy are still being developed. In the United States Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) policies have been introduced and these are bound to affect exporters in some way, either indirectly or directly. The continued growth of the certified organic market along with the recent introduction of the U.S. government’s organic policy are having far-reaching effects on the herb industry worldwide.

There are vastly different market options available to you. For example, you could focus on the bulk materials market, and if you do so, that will bring on a set of rules applicable for that particular market. Or you could be thinking about finished products and have a vision to sell under your own brand, and that of course brings on an entirely different set of rules. The essential oil market is very competitive and new entrants to that industry often struggle to make money, so you may wish to approach that industry with greater caution. Picking the right market to start with is a matter of research and good luck. And each herb that you consider growing can have completely different market and regulatory situations. For these reasons it is very difficult to generalize.

Because of the daunting complexities new entrants face, I always recommend starting small and letting the business "organically" where market and regulatory realities allow. This seems to have been a safe first step for many people over the years; but as the industry continues to mature success is also becoming increasingly a matter of producing on a larger scale. A producer wanting to make a living will need to produce bulk herbs in the tonnes, and that means a lot has to fall into the right places right away, while a hobbyist with dreams of turning their hobby into a business one day can choose to produce herbs in the tens or hundreds of kilos to start. One reality of this business is that it is usually a lot easier to grow the product well than to sell it well and make money.

You should definitely acquire as much information about growing and marketing as you can. This is the time to buying books that will help you to understand the business. Richters offers a number of useful books worth getting. See the "The GrowerZone" section of our website for books and e-books you can purchase.

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