Cypriot village, making a living out of roses not so rosy

NICOSIA, May 20 (Xinhua) — Making a living out of roses may sound like a rosy business for some people.

This, however, is not the case for those in the Cypriot mountain village of Agros who actually try to eke out a living out of roses. Agros, about 75 minutes’ drive from the capital Nicosia, is known for its roses and rose bush cultivation.

Sundays, especially in the summer, are the day to visit the village, at a height of over 1,000 meters, half way up the highest peak of Troodos mountain range, to beat the summer heat and to buy products made out of roses exclusively there.

What one can find in the two rose factories of the village, a picturesque sprawling community nestled in the folding mountains, is rose water and a large assortment of products, starting from soap in solid bars or liquid, to a large range of cosmetics with a rose scent and to tasty rose chocolates.

The rose business of Agros started as an accidental by-product as the rose bush, rosa damascena, was originally planted to keep goats feeding in the mountains out of the orchards.

The thorny bush was planted as a physical barrier to prevent goats from destroying plantations of tomatoes, beans and other greens and potatoes the villagers cultivated for their living.

Back in 1917, the village teacher, Nearchos Clerides, a respected figure of learning and culture in Cyprus, saw another use to the rose bush. Every morning at 5 a.m., he would lead his pupils into the mountains to collect the roses he used to produce rose water using makeshift primitive distilling pots.

The rose provided additional income for the expenses of the school. That was how the villagers found out that the bush would give them an additional income to supplement the one they had from selling lettuce.

But rose picking comes with a price. It is actually an arduous task which has to be done in a short span of time, before the sun rises high in the sky, reducing the fragrance of the flowers and their essential oils.

Katerina, a 45-year-old woman from Nicosia who travelled to Agros for the annual Rose Festival was among those who volunteered to pick roses “for the fun of it”.

“At first it sounded very romantic and an easy job to do. However the truth revealed itself quickly. Tiny picks on the stem of the flower start to cause pain to the finger tips, which it soon becomes unbearable,” she said of her experience as a rose picker.

Other trouble came soon. Rose picking means bending over the rose bush and that has to be done carefully to avoid getting hooked.

That is what Anastasia Pavlou, a 60-year-old village woman has been experiencing for all her life picking roses from the family bushes.

The pain on the finger tips did not bother her as her fingers hardened doing farming.

“It is a back-breaking work. You have to ‘quarrel’ all the time with the rose bushes. You get hooked and you pull to get free and the bush pulls you back. Time and again I came home with my clothes in tatters,” she said.

It is the same hard work for the family of Andreas Kyprianou, picking roses and is a hard work. The family make about 3,000 euros (3,350 U.S. dollars) a year which is only a supplement of the income from other work. They sold rose flowers at about four euros a kilogram to a local factory.

Kyprianou father is a partner in one of the rose factories. The family has its own rose plantation. Kyprianou himself works for the Forest Department of Cyprus. During the season, he helps his father pick his roses on weekends.

Kyprianou said picking roses is a daily chore which must be done very early in the morning. On Saturdays, he said, they went out at 5.30 a.m. to pick up as many roses they could before the sun shone on them, diminishing the fragrance of the flowers and their essential oils.

By the end of the working period of the day, about 9 a.m., they had collected 40 kilograms of flowers which were rushed by pick-up truck to the factory. The picking can last about one month.

Kyprianou said his father planted their first 600 rose bushes about 10 years ago. But they are not in one single area. The family owns 7,000 square meters of maintain land.

Evsevia Mavrommati, an employee at one of the factories, told her story. “Now we have modern vats of a 500-kilo of roses capacity. In the old days, we could process about 15 pounds or roses a day to produce a few liters of rose water. Nowadays, we produce around 10 to 15 tons of rose water a year,” she said.

She said the factory processes about 28 tons of roses a year, which are collected by about 150 rose farmers.

She said the most expensive product from the roses is rose oil. It costs 15,000 euros a liter (one kilogram), as it comes out of four tones of rose pedals.

Though it is not an easy task to tend to rose bushes with the occasional pruning and the picking of the roses, roses provide additional income for the farmers, while the two factories provide work for local people and income for the whole village.

As a result of the rose business, Agros has become a big village, with restaurants, cafes and bars, attracting thousands of locals and foreign tourists on a yearlong basis.

It even boasts a luxury hotel, which is full to capacity during the autumn months. Its name is aptly “The Hotel of the Roses”.


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