Interview opportunity: Combating poverty with vanilla

Whether it’s Yuletide biscuits, cake or chocolate – vanilla is a vital ingredient in many festive delicacies and treats.

Together with saffron, it is one of the most expensive spices in the world, a fact that has earned it the regal title ‘Queen of Spices’ in Madagascar. Nearly 80 per cent of the natural vanilla sold worldwide comes from this island state located off the east coast of Africa, in particular from the fertile Sava region in the north of the country. And yet the farmers who grow this vanilla only see a small share of the profit.

‘As the farmers hardly grow anything else, they are highly dependent on the income from their vanilla crops,’ says Alan Walsch, Country Director for the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH in Madagascar. Faced with widely fluctuating prices on the world market, many young people are turning their backs on agriculture and moving to the cities. ‘But their futures there are often uncertain,’ says Walsch. ‘That’s why we are working at local level to improve living conditions for farmers.’

Better income thanks to improved cultivation methods

Working on a German Government commission, GIZ instigated a development partnership in 2014 with the food producer Unilever and the German manufacturer of flavours and fragrances Symrise. GIZ and its partners are working with around 4,000 farmers in the Sava region who supply raw vanilla to Symrise. This company then processes it and sells the vanilla extract, inter alia to the food producer Unilever which uses it in products designed for the German and international market.

With GIZ’s support, farmers in the Sava region have joined together to form producer associations that vocalise their interests, for example, in price negotiations with Symrise. Furthermore, members of these associations receive regular training on cropping techniques that will enable them to increase their yields and so increase their earnings.

‘Our work is also about making farmers less dependent on vanilla,’ says Walsch. To this end, the producer associations also get training in the cultivation of fruit, vegetables and pulses. ‘In this way, they can meet their food needs throughout the entire year,’ says the GIZ expert.

The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH is a federally owned organisation with worldwide operations. We support the German Government in the fields of international cooperation for sustainable development and international education. Through our work we assist people and societies in shaping their own future and improving their living conditions.

GIZ Country Director, Alan Walsch, will be happy to give you a telephone interview on Friday 18 December or Monday 21 December. If you would like to talk to him, please contact the GIZ Press Office.