Greek herb smuggling is the new crime that border authorities have to fight, according to a report by NDTV.
The recent international popularity of Greek herbs seems to have neighboring Albanian thieves capitalizing on oregano and thyme, the report says.
Christos Mousafiris, a police officer at the Greek-Albanian border, said that villagers alerted him that Albanian pickers were seen collecting herbs from a mountain. When the police arrived on the scene, they found a full camp set up, more than a dozen pickers at work, and several mules.
Inside the plastic tents, police discovered 4.5 tons of a rare type of sage ready to be transferred to Albania.
According to the report, in August, several illegal pickers were arrested in the center of Tripoli, in southern Peloponnese, as they were found driving a truck with 200 kilograms of wild oregano and mountain tea.
Eleni Maloupa, a researcher at the Greek Agricultural Organisation, said that Greece has “a remarkable biodiversity. Of the 7,500 plant species, 20 percent are aromatic and pharmaceutical herbs including dozens of epidemic species. But they are not grown very much.”
Even though the demand for such herbs is high, Greece is behind in exports. Germany, France, Bulgaria, Italy and Poland are the top five countries in such exports.
According to Mousafiris, illegal pickers were paid 20 cents per kilogram for herbs growing in the border with Albania. The herbs were taken to Albania where they were sold to a middle-man in Italy at four euros a kilogram.
Forestry official Soultana Giannakopoulou said that the clandestine trade of herbs hurts the Greek flora because it is done without any precautions. Also, the quantities harvested are so large, that it can have disastrous results. Herb smuggling also hurts the agricultural economy:
“It is so much lost profit because these herbs are sold for less when they are not certified,” said Kostas Economakis, who has worked for the National Institute of Agronomic Research in the past.
However, Greek herb growers set up an association last year while the Greek state started a “national catalogue” of herbs. Also, more and more young entrepreneurs turn to cultivation of pharmaceutical and aromatic plans, Maloupa said.
Dimitris Chriss is such an entrepreneur. He had the idea to package the popular Greek mountain tea in a ready-to-drink form and labelled it “Tuvunu.” Since 2012, the brand name is sold in Paris, New York and San Francisco. Creating a mixture of 17 kinds of mountain tea, honey and lemon, Chriss has agreed with 300 farmers all over Greece to provide the herb and turns down wild herbs pickers.