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Accessing markets for herbs and aromatic plants

Mar 23,2012

Herb 'factory' in Egypt. Farmers can increase their profits by using simple farm-based processing methods.
Value chain analysis in Egypt and Jordan helps smallholder farmers access markets for herbs and aromatic plants.

Value-chain analysis of herbs and aromatic plants in Egypt and Jordan has highlighted the potential of these crops to generate income for small-scale farmers.

The study, funded by IFAD, also identified the key policy and research areas that need to be addressed. Most importantly, farmers need access to improved production practices and better information on processing, markets, and prices.

Understanding the value chain

The study covered four aromatic species: chamomile and basil in Egypt; oregano and sage in Jordan. This was the first comprehensive value-chain analysis for these species, covering production, processing, trade, price trends, margins, and institutional factors such as the role of cooperatives.

Every group involved in the business – producers, traders, transporters, farmers’ associations, exporters, quality standards laboratories, government officials – was interviewed.

The team met with 575 producers in 37 communities in the two countries. Although there were differences between crops and between countries, a number of common features emerged that have important policy implications.

Weak links in the chain

Farmers’ associations can play a crucial role in negotiating prices and credit terms. But there were very few of these associations in Jordan; while in Egypt they have largely been replaced by private-sector associations that may not always serve farmers’ interests – almost half of the members interviewed said their associations did not provide information on prices, for example.

Clearly, one priority is to encourage (and enable) small-scale farmers to form more effective associations.

Most farmers sell their crops fresh – but the study showed they could substantially increase profits through simple processing. For example, grading alone increases the value of fresh chamomile by 46%. Drying sweet basil in the field increases its value by 51%, yet fewer than 10% of producers in Egypt dry their own crop.

The study found that prices for the same product could vary by 100% in different markets – and vary substantially even within the same market.

This makes it all the more important for small-scale producers to have accurate market information. Similarly, quality standards need to be introduced, and testing facilities strengthened, to facilitate access to international markets.

Farmers can substantially increase profits through simple grading and processing.


  • Agricultural Research Center, Egypt
  • National Center for Agricultural Research and Extension, Jordan
  • University of Jordan
  • International Fund for Agricultural Development