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Haitian Vetiver Fragrance Exports Seen Plunging After Hurricane

Farms and processing plants were damaged, threatening future exports of the prime fragrance ingredient.

MEXICO CITY —Haiti’s exports of vetiver — essential oils used to make prestige market perfumes — could plunge in coming months after Hurricane Matthew destroyed key harvesting areas, a top official said.

“The main production areas in the south, including production and storage facilities, have been very badly hit,” said Norma Powell, director of Haiti’s Center for Investment.

These areas include top farming cooperatives in Les Cayes, Port-Salut, Fond Fred, Masse, Laurent and Tricon districts which churn out the bulk of the grass root sold mainly to French, Swiss, U.S. and Spanish perfumers.

Last year, vetiver exports reached $18 million, up from $11 million in 2012 when foreign shipments reached 74,000 tons.

“The hurricane has been disastrous,” said Michel Apollon, president and general manager of Unikode, which makes 5,500 gallons of vetiver oil annually and says it’s the island’s second producer. Apollon said heavy wind and flooding destroyed his processing plant but that he hopes to rebuild and re-open in December.

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The storm impacted farmers more than vetiver crops, he said, adding that the latest batch of harvested roots are safe. He declined to provide a precise forecast for how much exports will fall.

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“The farmers will be hit the most,” he said, adding that Les Cayes is home to 13 vetiver plants. “They have lost everything, their house, their animals so restructuring their lives and getting back to work will take some time.”

According to fragrance experts, vetiver exudes a “deep and astringent,” yet “earthy and balsam-woody” aroma. Used mainly for men’s fragrances, Haiti’s variety is said to be floral while others, including varieties from Java, have smokier attributes.

The gloomy forecast comes as leading manufacturer International Fragrances & Flavors in July teamed with Unilever to launch Vetiver Together, a fair trade scheme to support impoverished farmers and scale up production.

IFF and Unilever, which uses the root for its Axe, Impulse and other fragrances, did not immediately return comment requests.

Zegna’s Essenze perfume collection introduced a ‘Haitian Vetiver’ variety in 2014 with notes coming from the Les Cayes area in the now Hurricane-hit southwest area. The perfume retails from $120 to $220 in some markets.

Matthew, which has reportedly left 900 dead and displaced 175,000 residents in Haiti, hit the Americas’ poorest nation most severely as it swept through the Caribbean early this month.