Meet the collectors: FairWild liquorice in Spain
Liquorice is most commonly known for its flavour in sweet treats, but has also been used in traditional medicine around the world. Historically, dried sticks of liquorice were a popular indulgence, especially in the Netherlands. Since then, liquorice use has become commonplace in the world of confectionery and in herbal teas. The active ingredient found in the liquorice root can be up to 50 times as sweet as white sugar.
However, its status as a key wild collected product often goes unnoticed. Liquorice is often harvested in wild environments, meaning that conservation practices are vital to trade longevity. One hectare of land can yield 12 tonnes of fresh liquorice root. However, the regeneration time of a wild plot is around four years. This long harvesting lifecycle therefore requires smart, sustainable practices to conserve the local ecosystems and liquorice trade. This requires the whole supply chain to adhere to the core aspects of sustainability. The FairWild Standard provides the best practice guidelines which make this possible.
FairWild in Spain
The local farmers of the Zaragoza region in northern Spain traditionally collected liquorice root to supplement their income. Growing commercial interest in this product has led to the development of liquorice as an important industry for the region in socio-economic terms. Since 2013, Herbes del Moli in cooperation with collectors in northern Spain has worked together with UK company Organic Herb Trading to bring FairWild liquorice to tea lovers around the world.
Harvest by the six collectors is a year-round activity, except for during the hottest weeks of the summer, and mid-winter days when the ground is frozen. Firstly, if the vegetation is thick, it is cut back. Next, a tractor ploughs a single furrow, down which collectors walk, pulling the roots from the soil. Once an area has been harvested, it is rolled, and the root fragments left behind begin to restore the population.
Eileen Clark of Organic Herb Trading recently visited Herbes del Moli and was able to witness the positive outcomes of supporting FairWild Certification. She saw the direct impact the FairWild Premium fund has on the communities involved, including support for education and the purchasing of necessities such as a van for the collectors, which gave them flexibility with transport, shelter from the fierce sun and a clean place to prepare meals in the field.
After conversations with members representing the whole supply chain, Eileen expressed her feelings of positivity towards the development of this FairWild project:
“Being part of the young and flourishing FairWild movement is exciting, and learning more about the source of our herbs always means time well spent.”
She further explained how the work could be furthered by “carrying out workshops on wild collection so more people could be involved in wild collection in this region with other plants”. As such, perhaps FairWild liquorice could become a stepping stone for wider socio-environmental awareness and soft economic development in the area.