VANILLA is the second most expensive spice after saffron due to the extensive labor required growing the vanilla seed pods. Despite the expense, it is highly valued for its flavor. The vanilla bean was introduced to Madagascar during the 19th century. With no local bees to pollinate the crop each flower, which only lasts a day, they must be pollinated by hand in order to produce the prized vanilla beans.
Madagascar, famous for its high quality vanilla, is the world’s leading exporter of this spice, providing for half of global production and it is feared to be on the verge of cessation as farmers struggle to make ends meet. Due to extremely low wages, the stiff competition from Asian markets and the growing popularity of artificially produced alternatives, Madagascan farmers are on the edge of giving up their crops. Seventy percent of the population in the north-east of Madagascar, where most production comes from, rely on growing the spice for a living.
“Farmers are only paid $1.50 a day”, said Jean Bruno, a Madagascan farmer said. “It is difficult to grow, tend it day after day. But the worst part is the price,” he continues. A dollar a day, that’s the limit that has been reached in the last two or three years and most of the farmers are quitting vanilla.
Large acres of crops were destroyed in a devastating cyclone in 2000 which caused the price to soar. Major importers have to resort to synthetic alternatives when the prices went up due to shortage in bean supply, according to the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD)
“At less than $25 a kilo, the price is too low. If it goes below that the farmers will just stop growing it. They can’t make ends meet.” Claude Andreas said. Andreas is the president of the Madagascar Vanilla Growers’ Association.