Recipe for change – the need for improved livelihoods of vanilla farmers in Madagascar

25 February 2014

The majority of the 80,000 vanilla farmers in Madagascar face food insecurity for at least three months a year despite the fact that they are producing the world’s second most expensive spice. Depending on 6,000 middle men and 33 export companies for income, their negotiating power is minimal. The vanilla sector’s pricing system is complex and non-transparent. What makes the farmers’ situation even more difficult is that they have to compete against the industry’s use of artificial vanilla flavour. If the farmers were to get a fair income, this would enable them to purchase adequate nutritious food for themselves and their families. Fairfood International reveals the serious situation faced by small-scale Malagasy vanilla farmers in their report: ‘Recipe for change.’

Madagascar is one of the poorest countries in the world and the world’s largest exporter of vanilla. Since vanilla is the world’s second most expensive spice and the most commonly used flavour, one would expect better incomes for the vanilla farmers. Instead most live on less than 1 USD a day – far below the poverty line. “To me there is absolutely no reason why small farmers producing the world’s most used flavouring and such an expensive spice  – Vanilla – should live in abject poverty. Right now, this is happening in Madagascar and we need to change the situation.  Growing vanilla is one of the world’s most labour intensive jobs as everything is done by hand. While we are enjoying vanilla in our cakes, ice creams and chocolates, the farmers who produce this expensive spice lack better income. They deserve a fair price for their produce”, says Anselm Iwundu, Executive Director of Fairfood International.

The report will be used by Fairfood International to encourage food and beverage companies sourcing vanilla from Madagascar to improve their policies and practices. Companies are powerful stakeholders in the value chain and can play an important role in ensuring that small farmers have secure incomes and better lives. In return, companies will have access to a stable supply of high quality vanilla. A follow-up report with recommendations and possible solutions based on the consultations carried out in early 2014 between Fairfood and relevant stakeholders in the sector will be published later in the year.

Download ‘Recipe for change