Perfume of Peace Helps Farmers Switch From Drug Trade

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

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A tragedy in a time of war has led to a social enterprise that is creating jobs – and making the world smell a little better, too.

The 7 Virtues perfume range was started by Canadian Barb Stegemann ( to harness the energy of social enterprise and women’s buying power to change the dynamic of war and misery created by conflict around the world.

Stegemann ran a successful public relations company when she was inspired to do something after tragedy struck a good friend who was serving in Afghanistan with the Canadian Armed Forces as part of the NATO mission ( Hit on the head with an axe while involved in a village meeting, Captain Trevor Greene was thought to be fatally injured but survived, though he is still unable to walk.

The violent attack shocked Stegemann into action. The enterprise was founded not out of hatred and revenge, but as a way of addressing the serious economic problems and poverty of Afghanistan.

Wanting to do something, Stegemann was referred to the Turquoise Mountain Foundation (, which is based in Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul. The Turquoise Mountain Foundation is a social enterprise working in Afghanistan to regenerate the country’s traditional arts and historic areas in order to create jobs and boost skills.

Stegemann was inspired by a farmer called Abdullah Arsala from Jalalabad in the eastern part of the country. He was growing the ingredients for making essential oils, rather than the much more lucrative opium poppies which are used to make the drug heroin and help fuel a vast global illegal drug trade. Heroin addiction ruins many lives around the world and often leads to crime and violence.

The Turquoise Mountain Foundation did a study and found that if farmers could be paid US $9,912 for a litre of rose oil or US $7,994 for orange blossom oil it would be enough of a market incentive to lure them away from growing opium poppies.

Stegemann decided to provide that incentive.

Using her life savings, she established a perfume company. To start, Stegemann bought Arsala’s entire stock of orange blossom oil. After getting further investment through the Canadian television program Dragons’ Den – on which entrepreneurs compete for funding – she launched the company with two perfumes: Orange Blossom of Afghanistan and Noble Rose of Afghanistan.

With the whole collection rebranded as The 7 Virtues (, the Afghanistan Orange Blossom went on sale at the prestigious Selfridges department store in London, U.K.

Using Arsala as a go-between, 2,500 farmers in Afghanistan are now supplying essential oils for the perfumes.

To further expand the concept, Stegemann has launched Middle East Peace (, a perfume made from sweetie grapefruit oil from Israel with lime and basil oils from Iran.

In Haiti, a country still recovering from the 2010 earthquake disaster and decades of grinding poverty and political and economic chaos, she has created a scent for men using fragrant grass.

She hopes to also do the same for Rwanda and Syria.

The perfumes are all-natural and are put together in Toronto, Canada. They are sold in stores in Canada and the United States, as well as Selfridges in London.

The success has snowballed and a special gift pack has been put together for American Airlines.

“I never imagined I’d end up on a beauty counter, but this is where the women are and we must connect with them if we are going to reverse this cycle of war and poverty,” Stegemann told The Sunday Times. “Imagine if there were 300 women like me doing things like this. We could make a real difference.”


1) Centre for International Policy Studies: University of Ottawa: A focal point for scholarship and debate on international affairs in Canada. Website:

2) Post-war Reconstruction and Development Unit: The PRDU is an international centre of excellence for the study of post-conflict societies and their recovery. Website:

3) Peacebuilding and post-conflict recovery: The experience of recent years has also led the United Nations to focus as never before on peacebuilding – efforts to reduce a country’s risk of lapsing or relapsing into conflict by strengthening national capacities for conflict management, and to lay the foundations for sustainable peace and development. Website:

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime: UNODC is a global leader in the fight against illicit drugs and international crime. UNODC is mandated to assist Member States in their struggle against illicit drugs, crime and terrorism. Website:

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