Vanilla from Madagascar


Although vanilla is one of the most expensive spices in the world, the majority of the 80,000 smallholder farmers who produce vanilla in Madagascar experience food insecurity. This is caused by the fact they do not earn sufficient income to adequately provide food for themselves and their families throughout the year.

The problem

Much of the profits in the vanilla industry are distributed unevenly. The players at the top of the chain (e.g. companies and flavour houses) influence the prices and demand, and can therefore be seen as powerful stakeholders. Because of fluctuating prices of vanilla and the uneven profit distribution, farmers cannot predict how much money they will earn from their vanilla sales each year, leaving them in a vulnerable position.

About 75% of the farmers in Madagascar’s Sava region – including 60,000 smallholder vanilla farmers – live on less than US$1 a day and suffer extreme income insecurity.

The result of this income insecurity is that the Malagasy vanilla farmers do not have enough basic food, such as rice, to provide their families with a nutritious meal. This problem is especially pronounced in the low season.

Our work

The companies that source from the Malagasy vanilla farmers can and should help them to break out of the cycle of poverty by ensuring that they receive a fair price for their vanilla. A fair price covers a worker’s:

  • living costs for his/her family as well as for any hired worker
  • basic production costs;
  • externalities (including environmental costs) and risks.

Earning a fair price will give farmers an opportunity to break out of the poverty cycle and take better care of their families, invest in insurance to recover from unexpected externalities, invest in new crops, and have savings to fall back on.

Fairfood works on having solid methodologies in place for assessing a fair price. Furthermore, we engage with key multinational brands and flavour houses sourcing vanilla from Madagascar to increase their awareness on the issues farmers face, and to ensure that they make commitments to policy and practice changes that ensure Malagasy vanilla farmers receive a fair price for their valuable product.