Urbana, Iowa (Vocus/PRWEB ) November 20, 2008

Imagine having to transport a harvested crop from hillside fields to a production facility located several miles away without any motor vehicles. That’s exactly what the Tharu tribesman in western Nepal are faced with when the time comes to distill their crop of lemongrass into its more valuable essential oil. The remote Tharu community, which is socially and economically depressed, depends on this and other essential oil production to support itself.

Aura Cacia, a leading manufacturer of essential oils and aromatherapy products in the U.S., has taken a leading role in helping this community thrive. Aura Cacia Training Manager Tim Blakley recently traveled to western Nepal for the second time in 12 months to assist with projects funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) that are designed to improve the economic welfare of the impoverished communities there.

One of Blakely’s goals was to help the Tharu community increase the productivity and profitability of their essential oil distillation operations. The Tharu people grow the plants for the essential oil botanicals by hand and with oxen, and deliver the harvest by ox cart. Motorized vehicles are almost nonexistent in this area. Six crops — lemongrass, palmarosa, citronella, German chamomile, corn mint and eucalyptus — are currently distilled by the Tharu. The project’s distillation operations are decidedly low-tech and sustainable.

Blakely spent most of his time with the Brindaban Forest Group (BFG). They were given government forest land to cultivate, using a still powered by their spent lemongrass. Since Blakely’s last visit, it appears they will produce 400 to 500 kg of lemongrass this year, which is nearly double the annual yield from the previous year. Their harvest season starts in early July and ends in late November. “They have no vehicles and use carts pulled by water buffalo to haul the lemongrass from the fields to their still,” Blakley explains, “but in their first two years of operation, they have made a significant profit, and the money has gone into some very useful projects.”

There are 65 families in the BFG, and all equally own the business. The first year’s profit went towards buying goats to supply food and milk, building a rock road into their community, and creating a fund so the women could be paid to harvest lemongrass. The coming year’s profits will help bring electricity into the village, for the first time.

Blakley was also pleased to see significant improvements as a result of his first visit. “Getting them to realize they can sell internationally and set up a system to make it work has incredible potential for them,” he adds. “Also, alleviating phthalate and other contaminant concerns with the new storage containers Aura Cacia donated money to purchase was a significant improvement. I also got them thinking about the long-term needs of their fields. They will have to petition the government for the rights to use organic fertilizer or cover crops on the fields,” Blakley stated. “I was also able to explain why some of their oils were rejected. They are working to change their German chamomile variety to one that is more likely to pass our quality assurance requirements, for example.”

“My hopes are high that we can develop a long-term relationship with the Brindaban Forest Group,” Blakley says. “They grow their lemongrass on government forest land and are prohibited from cutting down any trees, tilling or fertilizing the land. The good thing is that lemongrass, palmarosa and citronella grow well in this situation. As a result, they easily qualify within our Well Earth™ guidelines of sustainability.”

Aura Cacia® Aromatherapy

Aura Cacia® provides aromatherapy products made with 100 percent pure essential oils. Aura Cacia fulfills consumers’ desires for comfort, health and safety in bath and body care products by combining the benefits of aromatherapy with practical products that can be used every day by the whole family. Aura Cacia is a socially conscious brand that respects the natural environment and champions the purity of its product line. Find out more about Aura Cacia at www.auracacia.com.

Frontier Natural Products Co-op(TM)

Founded in 1976 and based in Norway, Iowa, Frontier Natural Products Co-op(TM) offers a full line of natural and organic products under the Frontier, Simply Organic®, and Aura Cacia® brands. Products include culinary herbs, spices and baking flavors; bulk herbs and spices; and natural and organic aromatherapy products. Frontier’s goal is to provide consumers with the highest-quality organic and natural products while supporting and promoting social and environmental responsibility. For more information, visit Frontier’s website at www.frontiercoop.com.