Development of Regional Micro-economies to produce Essential Oils, Harvested in Mining Soils

Call for Proposals
USD 396.475
Counterpart Amount:
USD 965.944
Other agencies
Total Amount:
USD 1.362.419
Participating countries:
Argentina Argentina Colombia Colombia
Funding source:
FONTAGRO Amount 29% Other agencies 0% Counterpart Amount 71%

Executive Summary

The province of La Pampa, Argentina, and the department of Cesar, Colombia, share arid environments where soil vulnerability and desertification are the main constraints to agricultural activities and food security. Mining activity carried out in both regions competes for land used for agricultural purposes and prevents the production of food for fresh consumption in the dump areas due to the potential risk of phytoextraction of heavy metals.

In this context, regional microeconomies see limited access to new markets, especially those that have recently expanded, such as the production of agro-inputs from organic natural products and the industries derived from them. As part of this project, a biotechnological alternative for rhizorestoration of dump areas without vegetation cover is proposed to mitigate impact on the agricultural productivity of family farming communities adjacent to mining areas. Thus, regional microeconomies will be strengthened to the benefit of small producers of aromatic species and essential oils, increasing the productivity and sustainability of their production systems, their technical and organizational capacity, the use of raw materials and business management within a framework of mining soil phytoremediation.

The technological solution

As an innovative contribution, the strategy proposes the promotion of regional microeconomies based on the use of plant biomass produced in remediated soils to obtain essential oils and by-products with high added value, without the risk of contamination by heavy metals. In addition, within a framework of technological innovation, formulations and commercial prototypes of agro-inputs and cosmetic products based on essential oils will be developed, as an opportunity for the sustainable intensification of agriculture, incorporation into value chains and development of competitive territories that are equitable and sustainable. This development is directly linked to the proposal for a mine closure protocol based on rhizoremediation associated with the cultivation of aromatic species with high adaptation in dumps, whose plant biomass can be used in the production of essential oils.


Through modular execution, with multiple concurrent lines of action, we have achieved the proposed results in all the objectives. We identified more than 1,000 mining sites as potential aromatic production sites, which will eventually supply market niches for essential oils and natural cosmetics identified in our market study carried out at the local, regional and international levels. This production of aromatics is part of a process of phytoremediation of mining soils, based on the synergistic use of plants and microorganisms. We achieved quantitative improvements in the efficiency of the phytoremediation process and the appropriation of knowledge necessary for native aromatic plant material collection for essential oil production and the nursery of at least 4 aromatic species, 2 of which were reported as new plant species tolerant to metals. Of these species, 3 were successfully implanted in dump or lead-contaminated soils.

New strains of microorganisms of biotechnological interest capable of growing in high concentrations of metal and germplasm of native aromatic species were collected and, from them, plant-microorganism interactions in phytoremediation processes of degraded soils were studied. The more than 100 isolated microorganisms and 30 germplasm collections have been identified and analyzed for their biotechnological potential to promote the growth of arid ecosystem natives in degraded/contaminated soils; as well as their potential for the formulation of biologicals for agriculture. We successfully planted 156 Larrea divaricata seedlings and 120 Helianthus petiolaris seedlings in lead-contaminated soils, which have successfully operated as a pilot phytoremediation trial.

At the same time, in Argentina we have scaled up the essential oil distillation process to a pilot scale, processing the biomass obtained in field trials, more than 100 Kg of Lavandin (Lavandula hybrida) and 30 Kg of Pink Pepper (Schinus molle), obtaining some 2,500 ml of essential oil, valued at approximately US$2,500. In the case of Colombia, its production scale can handle more than one ton of fresh biomass per day, where we have advanced in the international expansion of oil trade and export of products with added value, as well as in nursery production.

For the management, communication and democratization of the knowledge generated, we expanded the institutional interactions of the project by signing cooperation agreements, holding different working breakfasts, training workshops on the nursery and management of aromatic plants, as well as on the production of natural cosmetics.

Academically, within the framework of the project, 3 degree theses, 2 doctoral theses and the presentation of at least 7 scientific articles in international journals were developed.

Finally, we disseminated the information to more than 500 local producers (in Argentina and Colombia), interacting in many cases in the field production sites or nurseries. In these scenarios, we have taken a film record of the activities, personal interviews and landscapes that feed the MOOC production and a documentary project for which we have alternative sources of financing.


The direct beneficiaries are 600 family farmers (250 from Argentina and 350 from Colombia). In Argentina, some 60 families belonging to 18 organizations will be directly benefited, promoted through the Municipality of Santa Rosa and the Department of Family Agriculture of the province, in the towns of Santa Rosa, General Pico, Toay, Cachirulo and Anguil. In Colombia, the beneficiaries are 150 members associated with the Kankuamos Agroecological Producers Cooperative and 200 family farmers from new associations in the Caribbean Coast area (Serranía del Perijá in the Department of Cesar).

The indirect beneficiaries are the rest of the actors in the value chain (distributors, merchants, etc.).

Sustainable Development Goals

Good health and well-being Gender equality Clean water and sanitation Decent work and economic growth Reduced inequalities Responsible consumption and production Life on land Partnerships for the goals

Main donors

Participating Organizations

  • UNLPam - Argentina
  • CIB - Colombia
  • Instituto Nacional de Tecnología Agropecuaria (INTA) - Argentina
  • UDES - Colombia
  • UNIANDINA - Colombia
  • UPC - Colombia
  • ASOPROKAN - Colombia
  • Roció de Miel S.A - Argentina

Graphics and data

Financing by country (in USD)
FONTAGRO Amount Other agencies Counterpart Amount

Geolocated Map


Project leader Argentina

Luciano J. Merini


Monica Bellozas


Graciela Lorda


Aslenis Melo


Ricardo Duran


Valeria Santella


Solon Arias


Carlos Moldes


Marisol Minig


Carolina Castaño

Thesis student

Anabel Saran

Thesis student

Lucia Fernandez

With the support of
Fondo Coreano de Alianza para el Conocimiento en Tecnología e Innovación (KPK)