When you start a refreshing ice–cream or one of the many other desserts that contain vanilla, the ‘politics’ of - where it comes from, who makes it and under what conditions they produce it – is probably not something you consider. You are certainly unlikely to link your dessert to Madagascar – the home of Lemurs but sadly also one of the poorest countries in the world. Vanilla sales play a large part in Madagascar’s ‘wellbeing’, as one of its main exports. The farmers ultimately are often pressured with targets and often not given a decent or reliable wage.
The process of production is complex - separating the flowers, extracting the right pods, being picked and cured at the right time -this can all take around 6 months (2) and during this time, the weather, (Madagascar experiences devastating cyclones and extreme droughts) can change everything. Working against the odds, these small-scale famers need our help. It is not all bad news though, Madagascar has managed to do better than its target last year (1) but the price of vanilla remains unusually high due to the adverse weather.
Hopefully, the weather in 2018 will be less unpredictable, the markets will stabilise and there will be a chance to pursue a more sustainable means of production. With more and more people turning to the Sustainable Vanilla Initiative (2), the farmers are guaranteed ‘a life line’ in times of trouble, and exploitation is hopefully prevented. This initiative has many benefits and comprises of many organisations, from food manufacturers to fragrance outlets, it seeks to stabilise the prices and ensure farmers get a reliable living wage. It also goes further – helping farmers time pollination and possibly even get two harvests instead of one.
Whatever the future holds for these small farmers, one thing is certain – they need help. Could you lend that helping hand? Money for Madagascar has played a key role in fostering enterprise – offering support in times of need – especially offering support in the aftermaths of droughts and cyclones.
If you feel you would like to make a difference, please consider making a donation –
Anything you give will go to those who need it most, Thank you.
By Matthew Ward