The Sour Side of Madagascar's Vanilla
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because someone hand-picked the beans for your all-natural ice cream.
By Fellipe Abreu & Henrique G. Hedler, Fraser Stephen, Thays Prado and Vitor Pessoa
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Vanilla is a flavor of comfort, decadence and indulgence. When we want to treat ourselves, we reach for vanilla ice cream, warm vanilla pudding or any other of the myriad of desserts and baked goods that wouldn’t be quite the same without it — and that goes for chocolate chip cookies too.
At the moment it seems as though the world’s sweet tooth has turned into a full set of chompers. Over the past two years, the price of vanilla has spiked to record highs, hitting more than $600 a kilogram, six times what it cost as recently as 2015. While exporters are benefiting from the surge pricing, links at the lower end of the value chain aren’t experiencing the same boost.
Madagascar produces 80 percent of the world’s vanilla, but farmers there make just $495 a year.
So, although our seemingly insatiable desire for vanilla is reflected in its value on the global market, small-scale farmers who pick, grade, clean, steep, sweat and dry those lucrative pods in Madagascar may be tasting a more sour side of the spice.
Video by Fellipe Abreu, Henrique G. Hedler, Vitor Pessoa, Thay Prado and Fraser Stephen. Accompanying text by Olivia Miltner.