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Focus group: MAPs sector in Ireland

    WildMAPsFiT Irish partner, UCD, organized one virtual focus group research to analyze the Irish MAP sector, its processes and its link with other broader sectors, such as the bioeconomy.

    Three relevant stakeholders working actively in the Irish MAP sector have joined the focus group. More specifically, one herb section worker from Bord na Mona, one of the biggest companies in Ireland; one small scale farmer, besides herbalist and teacher of growing herbs and herbal medicine in Ireland; and one assistant professor at UCD with more than ten years of experience in MAPs research.

    Six main topics were addressed:

    • MAPs sector importance in Ireland and the wild or cultivated MAPs with most economic impact
    • Challenges of the Irish MAP sector
    • Profitability of MAP organic vs conventional farming
    • Interaction of individual farmers and cooperatives with the industry actors
    • Importance of processing, drying and extraction to create high-value MAP-based products
    • Links between MAP sector and agriculture as well as bioeconomy

    The participants of this online focus group provided insights to get knowing better the Irish MAP sector. Ireland has a long history in MAPs, and for that reason, it attracts foreign students interested in getting training in the MAPs field (i.e., growing and herbal medicine). There is also an established MAP market since there is an increasing demand for MAP-based products, including tea, supplements, cosmetics, and herbal medicines.

    The available data regarding the production of MAPs, such as total cultivation area, total yields, etc., are limited at the moment. However, even though there is little information about quantitative production parameters, participants have good knowledge about the main cultivated MAPs in Ireland. The most relevant for commercial purposes are peppermint, tea herbs, lemon balm, spearmint, rosemary, echinacea, and calendula. Most of the MAP demand in Ireland is covered by imports in different formats, such as dried MAPs, essential oils, and capsules.

    The Irish MAP sector develops on a challenging path, especially regarding the weather conditions (i.e., high humidity and unstable weather conditions), the high labour cost, and the lack of a centralized association. High costs are also an essential issue in organic MAPs production, and participants informed that an integrated growing system would be more efficient and promising. However, a strength of Irish MAPs is that they can compete with those produced in other countries since they grow in non-contaminated land, thus providing products clean from pesticides.

    In the same line, fresh MAPs drying and further processing are critical steps to producing high-value products with long storability. Nonetheless, due to the high energy costs, the drying process requires large MAPs quantities to be affordable. This affects especially small farmers since a limited production does not make drying affordable. The only way to address this limitation is to dry MAPs and subsequently process them to extract bioactive ingredients.

    Finally, relations between industry and farmers would enhance the development and growth of the MAPs sector in Ireland. Direct communication between them would allow it, independently of it is about an individual or associated farmers. However, the industry should take the initiative to provide training to the farmers (e. g., business development).