SEATTLE — Madagascar is an island country full of hilly forests that lies off the southeastern coast of Africa. The country is responsible for 80% of the world’s vanilla production, yet it is one of the poorest countries in the world. Around 75% of the population lives on less than $1.90 per day.
Challenges Facing Vanilla Farmers in Madagascar
In recent years, the price of vanilla has soared from $50 per kilo in 2015 to between $400 and $600 per kilo. This is due to increased global demand as well as decreased global supply. Despite this increase, many farmers do not experience an increase in income or improvement in their livelihoods. Oftentimes, vanilla farmers in Madagascar lack the facilities to grow high-quality vanilla and thus are forced to accept low prices for low-quality vanilla. Additionally, vanilla prices are notoriously volatile, and in reaction to this, farmers often harvest their vanilla too early. Again, this results in poorly priced, low-quality vanilla.
Madagascar is also highly sensitive to extreme weather events. Around 85% of Madagascar’s people live off of climate-sensitive agriculture. Therefore, they are especially vulnerable to the risks associated with rising temperatures and rainfall variability, in addition to floods, cyclones and droughts. Moreover, Madagascar has a high level of biodiversity. This biodiversity is put under stress by practices like logging and unsustainable agriculture. In order for vanilla to become a long-term and sustainable source of income for Madagascar’s farmers, effort must be made to preserve and protect Madagascar’s ecosystem.
Initiatives that Support Vanilla Farmers in Madagascar
Several corporations, nonprofit organizations and nations have recognized these problems and put forth initiatives to solve them.
Sustainable Vanilla for People and Nature: This initiative was announced in April 2020 by McCormick & Company and the National Cooperative Business Association CLUSA International. This is a three-year, $3 million initiative funded by USAID and McCormick & Company. This initiative seeks to improve 3,000 farmers’ livelihoods as well as conserve biodiversity in the Sava and Analanjirofo regions of Madagascar.
The Livelihoods Fund for Family Farming: This is an impact investment fund created by the companies Danone, Firmenich, Mars and Veolia to support sustainability and poverty reduction in Madagascar’s vanilla supply chains. Using these funds, Fanamby, an NGO in Madagascar, implemented the Livelihoods-Vanilla project in 2017 with 3,000 family farms. Instead of the usual 5% to 20%, farmers involved in this project will earn 60% of the vanilla’s market value. Additionally, the Livelihoods-Vanilla project will also tackle food insecurity by promoting rice production and crop diversification. This project will also introduce other agricultural strategies like clove production and poultry farming to preserve local forests and foster biodiversity. Hopefully, 6,000 hectares of land will be converted to sustainable agriculture use.
Vanilla for Change: This project is a collaboration between Unilever and Symrise. So far, this collaboration has helped 40,000 people in 76 villages. The Vanilla for Change project ensures that all farmers are paid a fair price for their goods. Similar to the Livelihoods-Vanilla Project, Symrise and Unilever encourage Madagascan farmers to plant other crops like clove, ginger and cocoa both as a supplemental income source and for sustainability. In addition to these actions, this project has also supported Madagascan farmers financially by establishing village-level savings and loan associations. Moreover, Symrise and Unilever have invested in the youth of Madagascar by supplying education resources to teachers.
The multifaceted nature of these projects demonstrates that poverty reduction, preservation of biodiversity and proper stewardship of the environment can happen simultaneously. By supporting vanilla farmers in Madagascar and taking care of the environment, the nation can create a long-lasting and stable source of income that will bring about poverty reduction.
– Antoinette Fang