Fairfood urges big food brands & flavour houses to do more for Madagascar vanilla farmers

4 November 2013

On 5 and 6 November 2013 Fairfood International will attend the Vanilla 2013 symposium in Jamesburg, New Jersey USA, with one message: Big food brands and flavour houses sourcing vanilla from Madagascar must do more for struggling Malagasy vanilla farmers. As this year’s conference theme is ‘Sustainability: keeping vanilla growing’, Fairfood will be asking companies such as Nestlé, Unilever, McCormick, General Mills, Symrise, Firmenich, Givaudan and International Flavors & Fragrances Inc to source sustainable vanilla, to join multi-stakeholder platforms and to ensure that CSR initiatives benefit vanilla farmers.

Madagascar, one of the poorest countries in the world, is also world’s largest exporter of one of the most expensive spices – vanilla. The World Bank reports that over 92% of the Malagasies live on less than US$2 per day[1].

Due to unstable incomes, vanilla farmers do not have enough food to support their families at least three months a year[2]. They are also unable to earn a decent income to support themselves and their families throughout the year, leaving them in a very insecure situation. At Fairfood we believe that companies sourcing vanilla from Madagascar should accelerate, scale up and improve their corporate responsibility performances.

Four cross-cutting issues at stake

Because farmers lack the resources to upgrade or improve their production, quality suffers resulting in farmers receiving less for their vanilla than they anticipated. Vanilla farmers in Madagascar also tend to harvest their vanilla too early, because they are worried about theft or are desperate for income, which negatively influences the quality of the crop.

Over half of the Madagascar vanilla farmers interviewed during Fairfood’s field research said they need more financial assistance, but only 20% get money from a micro-finance institution or bank[3].

Theft is a huge problem in the vanilla industry in Madagascar. Often vanilla gets stolen, leaving farmers with less vanilla to sell and thus lower income than expected. 82% of the interviewed vanilla farmers were robbed of their vanilla over the last 12 months[4]. Because almost all of the farmers have no insurance, they struggle to recover if their crops are stolen.

Finally, vanilla prices fluctuate annually on the international market and the price paid to the farmers varies accordingly. Vanilla farmers have little or no influences on the price paid to them and are not aware of the export price. Therefore the farmers cannot predict the income they will receive each year and are unable to budget their income accordingly. In the last ten years the international price has ranged from US$20 per kg (in 2010) to US$500 per kg of cured vanilla (in 2004)[5].

100% sustainable vanilla by 2020

Most vanilla sourcing companies have already made commitments regarding sourcing by joining IDH’s Sustainable Spices Initiative and/or implementing corporate responsibility projects. However, Fairfood believes that companies can and should do more, as they have the responsibility and the power to transform the industry. During the vanilla symposium Fairfood will kick-start an active engagement with the vanilla companies to point out three specific actions, which they need to undertake to have a greater impact and to ensure a better and more secure income for the vanilla farmer in Madagascar.

Firstly, companies should commit to sourcing 25% of their vanilla sustainably by 2015 and 100% of their vanilla sustainably by 2020 from suppliers with credible corporate projects, certifications or standards and report on annual goals to achieve this commitment.

Secondly, they should, as a means to continuously improve policy and practice, join multi- stakeholder platforms and take on an active role to increase the ambitions of the platform.

Finally, they should ensure that their corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives directly benefit vanilla farmers through impact assessments with full participation of NGO’s and farming communities.

These commitments should put mechanisms in place to guarantee Malagasy vanilla farmers’ access to financial resources in hard times, support them to fight theft and give them additional skills and resources to produce good quality cured vanilla. This will enable them to support themselves and their families.

The poster and the factsheet that Fairfood will present at the Vanilla 2013 symposium is now online.

A report on the key issues in the vanilla industry in Madagascar will be published at the end of January 2014 and will become available here: http://www.fairfood.org/hotspots/madagascar/


[1] Worldbank, 2013

[2] Actis (2013). Vanilla value chain SAVA region, Madagascar. Report on survey findings

[3] Actis (2013). Vanilla value chain SAVA region, Madagascar. Report on survey findings

[4] Actis (2013). Vanilla value chain SAVA region, Madagascar. Report on survey findings

[5] FAOstat(2013). Production, Retrieved 21 October 2013,  http://faostat.fao.org/site/613/DesktopDefault.aspx?PageID=613#ancor