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Ethical Sourcing - herb cultivation project creates jobs in Bulgaria

Martin Bauer, the Herbal and Fruit Tea producing company, has joined forces with Bulgarian farming partners to breathe new life into the herb growing sector in Kalyanovo, with guaranteed income and social standards.

Medicinal herbs were grown in the area around Plovdiv in southern Bulgaria for many decades and Martin Bauer was already purchasing herbs in this region as early as the 1950s. Vast farming areas have been lying fallow over the last five years as a result of migration into the cities. By joining forces with its Bulgarian partners in the \Mountain People\ project, Martin Bauer has been able to recruit agricultural workers for Kalyanovo, where herbs are now being grown again in an area covering around 70 hectares (approx. 173 acres).

"Herb growing is still a very labour-intensive business. The workers have to till and weed the soil seven to eight times between March and November. 50 people manage about one hectare a day," according to Alfred Zink, who is coordinating the project for Martin Bauer. Migration into the cities had assumed alarming proportions in the area around Plovdiv in 2005. Houses stood empty, fields lay fallow and herb cultivation was endangered. Martin Bauer and the Bulgarian cropping farm initiated a project to attract new labourers. They negotiated long-term supply agreements and a fixed purchasing price that was independent of the world market or the quality of the crop. They then recruited 30 labourers from the mountains, who moved to Kalyanovo with their families. These families now have a fixed income, which is around 50 percent higher than the average earning of a Bulgarian farm worker, they live in rent-free accommodation and receive free treatment at the regional hospital.

The project has been running for two years now. The new agricultural workers have become integrated into the community. The children go to school, the women earn money by drying the herbs. The workers have grown together to produce a team of well-trained employees. Ten-year supply agreements with Martin Bauer have given the cropping farm a fixed income and planning security. It has not only been possible to maintain the traditional cultivation structures, but also expand them. Regular field maintenance produces peppermint and balm mint of a very high quality. After two years development work, we can now say that the "Mountain People" project has proved to be really worthwhile and it is a shining example for the region.