Traceability and co-ops key to combating vanilla crime in Madagascar

Written by NCBA CLUSA Staff

Vanilla sits in a farmer’s home under protection from thieves as prices rise to $500 per kilo. [photo: RIJASOLO/AFP] Vanilla sits in a farmer’s home under protection from thieves as prices rise to $500 per kilo. [photo: RIJASOLO/AFP] Vanilla sits in a farmer’s home under protection from thieves as prices rise to $500 per kilo. [photo: RIJASOLO/AFP] Murder, intrigue and vanilla—as violence around this lucrative crop becomes more common during harvest seasons, farmers in Madagascar are banding together to protect their crops.

At the beginning of this year's harvest season, Malagasy Prime Minister Olivier Mahafaly warned that anyone belonging to or complicit with criminal networks would face "heavy penalties." In the view of the government, so-called "local officials" whose involvement and corruption in the vanilla trade has been demonstrated several times are in hot water. This stance is a positive change against corruption and is bolstering efforts for traceability of vanilla.

Exporters, collectors and planters are all unanimous: the statements of Prime Minister Olivier Mahafaly demonstrate a change in attitude at the highest level of Madagascar for combatting crime against vanilla farmers.

Gabriel Sarasin, NCBA CLUSA’s Country Director in Madagascar, recently spoke to the French-African newspaper RFI on the role of cooperatives in professionalizing and strengthening the vanilla sector to combat some of these issues. NCBA CLUSA recently completed a series of Farmer-to-Farmer assignments with vanilla cooperatives and is partnering with exporters to support farmers and build the quality of vanilla.

Many farmers often pick their harvest too early to decrease the risk of theft, reducing its quality of the market. A similar situation happened in 2003, when vanilla prices soared. At the time, a kilo of vanilla passed the US $500 marked. With a poor harvest in 2016, prices in 2017 are looking to rise past this mark as well. But with such high prices, the Malagasy pod had never reached such a low level of quality.

Through cooperatives, collective warehousing and building curing stations in rural areas, farmers are less susceptible to corrupt middle men and have direct access to true market prices.

In partnership with Catholic Relief Services and the USAID|Farrano Project, NCBA CLUSA is also working to provide market opportunities to cooperative farmers in vanilla and other sectors.

"The Prime Minister has pointed directly at some local authorities who are directly involved in the traffic of vanilla," Sarasin said. “This is a very strong position that has not necessarily been seen in the past. It promises very severe penalties for violators of the law, a necessity to clean up the vanilla industry at the moment."

With the government expected to crack down on corruption, farmers can invest in strengthening their co-ops and farms instead of protecting their crops from theft. "It has been an extremely tense situation in the villages where there is vanilla. People have been sleeping in their fields since February. The producers we work with report a significant increase in thefts of vanilla that can lead to violence and even killing," Sarasin said.

This story was originally reported by Radio France Internationale (RFI).