Christos Mousafidis, a police officer on the Greek-Albanian border, mainly deals with drug trafficking and illegal immigration. However, this year, he is grappling with a different kind of crime: herb smuggling.
“Villagers alerted us to it,” he said. “Something was going on.”
Climbing for about an hour and a half up to an altitude of about 1,300m, “we discovered a camp in the middle of the mountains and more than a dozen Albanian pickers at work,” Mousafidis said.
The makeshift camp of nylon and plastic tents had several days’ worth of provisions.
Mules stood ready to transport the harvest — a staggering 4.5 tonnes of a type of sage —- to market along mountain paths to neighboring Albania.
In August, some less discreet pickers were arrested in the center of Tripoli, a city in the southern Peloponnese, with a truck load of 200kg of wild oregano and “mountain tea” — a very popular infusion in Greece.
Though pickers are well aware of the profits to be had from wild Greek plants, the boon has been largely overlooked by the legitimate agricultural sector.
“We have a remarkable biodiversity. Of 7,500 plant species [in Greece], 20 percent are aromatic and pharmaceutical herbs, including dozens of endemic species, but they are not grown very much,” said Eleni Maloupa, a researcher at the Greek agricultural organization DEMETRA.
Greek exports are well behind the European leaders in the sector — Germany, France, Bulgaria, Italy and Poland.
However, the demand is there. Illegal pickers were paid 20 euro cents (US$0.24) a kilo for herbs harvested this year on the border with Albania, which were sold on for 4 euros a kilo by a middleman in Italy, Mousafidis said.
Whether the end use was culinary or pharmaceutical has not been determined, but the trade was brisk enough that another group was caught in the act at the same place a few weeks later.
The clandestine trade “hurts the flora because the cutting is done without precautions,” forestry official Soulatana Giannakoupolo said.
Maloupa, who runs a botanical garden in northern Greece that specializes in aromatic herbs, also lamented the uncontrolled sale of the herbs.
Kostas Economakis, an expert on mountain teas who formerly worked at the National Institute of Agronomics Research, said: “It’s so much lost profit because these herbs are sold for less when they are not certified.”
At the market in northern Salonika, half of the plants sold in sachets were not cultivated, but picked wild on the mountainside, Maloupa said.
However, the tide is turning. Last year Greek growers set up an association while the government launched a “national catalogue” serving as a scientific reference on the plants.
“More and more young people or entrepreneurs are turning towards ... aromatic and pharmaceutical plants,” Maloupa said.
Since 2012, Greek mountain tea has been available in ready-to-drink form with the brand name “Tuvunu” and sold in San Francisco, New York and Paris.
Developed in northeastern Greece between Xanthi and Komotini, Tuvunu is “a mixture of 17 kinds of mountain tea, honey, lemon and nothing else,” owner Demetri Chriss said.
To ensure quality, the business persuaded farmers in the region to alternate the crop with the tobacco they grow.
“Now we have agreements with 300 farmers all over Greece. And we turn down proposals from those who want to send us wild herbs picked in the mountains,” he said.
NOT ALL GOOD: Analysts warned that other data for last month might be less rosy due to the virus and analysts expect the PMI to contract again next month Chinese factory activity saw surprise growth last month as businesses went back to work following a lengthy shutdown, but analysts said that the economy faces a challenging recovery as external demand has been devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic, while the World Bank said that growth could screech to a halt. China is slowly returning to life after months of tough restrictions aimed at containing the virus, which put millions of people into virtual house arrest and brought economic activity to a near standstill. The strict measures saw a closely watched gauge of manufacturing plunge to its lowest level on record in February,
The output of the global smartphone industry this year is to contract by 7.8 percent on an annual basis as the COVID-19 pandemic ushers in a global recession, Taipei-based market researcher TrendForce Corp (集邦科技) said in a report on Monday. The global production of smartphones is expected to fall to 1.29 billion units, as the pandemic dampens demand for consumer electronics, leading to a decline in shipments across Europe and North America, TrendForce said. With consumers delaying smartphone purchases and thereby lengthening the device replacement cycle, overall prices would suffer a setback that is expected to negatively affect the profitability of smartphone
ELECTRONICS Lite-On delays sale of unit Lite-On Technology Corp (光寶科技) yesterday said it would postpone the sale of its solid-state drives (SSD) business to Kioxia Holdings Corp, formerly known as Toshiba Memory Holdings Corp, due to disruptions amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Last year, the Taiwan-based electronics components supplier struck the deal with the Japanese firm, agreeing to sell the unit for US$165 million. Citing unfinished integration work due to the pandemic, Lite-On has deferred today’s closing date until further notice, adding that the delay would not have a negative effect on the unit’s operations. AUTO PARTS Hiroca approves dividend Automotive interior parts supplier Hiroca
ALL ABOUT STRATEGY: The company is optimistic, saying that its gross margin should increase year-on-year, but it is scaling back on its plans to expand capacity Quang Viet Enterprise Co (QVE, 廣越), which makes down jackets and garments for sportswear and outdoor brands including Adidas AG, yesterday said that revenue might drop 5 to 10 percent annually this year as some customers trimmed orders in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. That would mark its first revenue decline since 2016. Quang Viet posted record-high revenue of NT$16.26 billion (US$537.45 million) last year, up 22 percent from 2018. Down jackets made up 40 percent of it revenue last year. North Face Inc and Patagonia Inc are this year likely to reduce orders by 20 to 30 percent from a