Cooperatives uniquely poised to reboot Madagascar's vanilla industry

vanilla madagascar 500 2cff4vanilla madagascar 500 2cff4Madagascar is the world's largest producer of vanilla, but for how much longer? In an interview with the Madagascar news outlet No Comment, NCBA CLUSA’s Country Representative in Madagascar Gabriel Sarasin speaks frankly about the future of vanilla in Madagascar and why co-ops may be the only solution.

At any point in the year, up to 75 percent of the vanilla circulating the world originated in Madagascar. But with challenges like theft, vanilla speculators and unstructured sales, Malagasy farmers are resorting to harvesting techniques that are diminishing the quality of vanilla.

To combat thieves and meet high demand, vanilla farmers are picking their pods greener and greener. What used to be the best vanilla in the world has dropped its vanillin rate to between 0.8 and 1.2 percent, compared to the global standard of 1.7 to 2.4 percent. Bad packaging further affects this rate. Vacuum packaging means more vanilla is harvested before it is mature, sometimes up to the three months prior to a normal harvest, resulting in a less flavorful pod. While vacuum packaging was outlawed in Madagascar this year, farmers still use this packaging method to protect their harvest from thieves.

While the quality of vanilla has been declining due to these harvesting issues, the price of vanilla has increased by more than six times in the past three years, creating a market bubble. Middle men and speculators are part of the problem, as well as reports of organized crime. Vanilla has been connected to money laundering for rosewood in some areas.

How will Malagasy farmers fix these problems? Individually, small farmers are very insecure. They are reliant on middle men for their market information. Organizing and becoming members of a cooperative would allow them to link directly with exporters and international buyers, and enable them to get real prices for their crop. Cooperatives would also help with the traceability of the product—ensuring that the vanilla is not coming from stolen harvests.

Working in Madagascar under the USAID-funded Fararano project, led by Catholic Relief Services, NCBA CLUSA is leveraging over 35 years working with vanilla farmers in Indonesia and East Timor. As countries like Indonesia begin investing more in vanilla—improving quality and ultimately evening out prices—the cooperative business model can help the vanilla industry in Madagascar restructure itself to compete with global markets. 

To strengthen their exports and vanilla quality, cooperatives are key to bringing farmer-owned structure to the vanilla industry.

Click here to read the full interview (in French).


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