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Protests in Bulgaria Over Roses as Petal Price Drops

Bulgarian rose petals are being produced faster than the nation’s rose oil industry can sell then, causing a dramatic drop in price that has impacted farmers during the 2018 harvest.

Flower farmers who sell products to the Bulgarian rose oil distillers have staged multiple public protests to respond to the change, and argue that a standard minimum price per kilogram must be set at a higher bar for future seasons.

The annual Bulgarian Rose Festival and Parade was celebrated in the host city of Kazanlak over the past weekend. The roses are a traditional crop in central Bulgaria, used to produce an essential oil used in cosmetics and medicine. However, Kazanlak and surrounding municipalities have been the sight of several union protests in the three rose harvest weeks prior to this festival.

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Early 20th-century rose farmers in Kazanlak.

“Until the country finds a way out with a state subsidy or a proposal to Brussels to help the rose producers, we will not stop the protests,” said Zara Klisurova, chairman of the National Union of Producers of Essential Oil, Oil and Energy Cultures in Bulgaria.

On May 19th, Klisurova and fellow rose growing farmers scattered petals across the street in Kazanlak and blocked traffic traveling from capital city Sofia to Bourgas. They announced that they would refuse to sell their product until a price tag of no less than 2.50 BGN per kg returned to the rose petals. The current price being offered by the distilleries is 1.60 BGN per kg.

According to Eurostat data released in 2017, Bulgaria has the lowest standard price of labor in the European Union. In comparison to the European average price of 26.8 euros per hour, Bulgarian laborers receive an average hourly wage of 4.9 euros.

The collective production of the 2018 harvest was expected to reach 16,000 tons of petals, Minister of Agriculture Rumen Porozhanov said on a Bulgarian morning talk show program. This exceeds both the demand of rose oil in the current market and the capacity of the local distilleries to process.

In standard conditions, 3,500 to 4,000 kilograms of rose petals are needed to produce 1 kg of distilled rose oil, according to the Bulgarian National Association of Essential Oils, Perfumery or Cosmetics. This distilled oil then sells internationally for up to 6,000 euros per kilogram.

About 95 percent of Bulgarian rose oil is exported, according to Porozhanov. The majority of that is purchased by the French perfume industry, German pharmaceutical industry and by Japanese markets. The international price of rose essential oil is up to 6,000 euros per kilogram.

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The Damask Rose, a breed common in Bulgaria and valued in the international oil market.

As the popularity of these products increased over the last decade, tourism increased to the central region of the nation known as the Rose Valley due to its favorable conditions for both rose bushes and lavender. Farmers have reacted with an increased investment in the Damask Rose, a high-quality strain, and additional fields have overwhelmed the market.

Porozhanov expressed that a minimum purchase price would be an impossible legislative measure. However, he announced the drafting of a new law that could defend the farmers by regulating the exchange between producers and distillers and the quality of the product currently in surplus.

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