The ‘queen of spices’ makes life better for vanilla farmers in Madagascar

22.12.2015 – Almost 80 per cent of the natural vanilla sold worldwide comes from Madagascar. GIZ is creating better prospects for vanilla farmers and supporting them in improving their living conditions.

In Madagascar, vanilla is known as the ‘queen of spices’. Alongside saffron, it is one of the most costly spices in the world. In the dark days of winter, vanilla is in particular demand: in biscuits, cakes and chocolate, it is a popular flavouring for festive treats.

Madagascar is the home of vanilla. Almost 80 per cent of the natural vanilla sold worldwide comes from the island, mainly from the fertile Sava region in the north. However, the farmers who produce the spice see only a small share of the profits.

‘As the farmers rarely grow any other plants, they are dependent on the vanilla harvest to a very high degree,’ explains Alan Walsch, Country Director for the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH in Madagascar. Prices on the global market are extremely volatile. As a result, many young Malagasy people no longer see any prospects for themselves in agriculture and are moving to the cities instead. ‘But their futures there are often uncertain,’ says Walsch. ‘That’s why we are working at local level to improve living conditions for farmers.’

In 2014, GIZ set up a cooperation arrangement with food producer Unilever and Symrise, a German manufacturer of flavourings and fragrances. The development partnership receives support under the programme run by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).

GIZ and its partners work with around 4,000 farmers in the Sava region who supply vanilla to Symrise. From this, the company obtains vanilla extract, among other things, which Unilever then uses to manufacture products for the German and international markets.

The programme offers training courses known as ‘farmer field schools’ to increase vanilla yields and support the farmers in cultivating additional crops such as fruit, vegetables and pulses. By applying the methods they learn there, farmers can increase their yields and sell other agricultural produce in periods when vanilla is less abundant.

‘Part of our work involves making farmers less dependent on vanilla,’ says GIZ expert Walsch. ‘They are then able to produce food for themselves throughout the whole year.’

Also with GIZ support, three agricultural colleges have been set up and are already training the next generation of vanilla farmers. To date, more than 150 young people aged between 15 and 23 have attended courses on cultivation methods, budgeting and bookkeeping.