Madagascar is estimated to grow 80% of the world's vanilla. But vanilla farmers live in poverty, faced with fluctuating prices and thieves.

Vanilla is a vital ingredient widely used in many industries, such as food, cosmetics and perfumery. 80% of global vanilla production is concentrated in a small area in northern Madagascar, one of the poorest countries in the world. Over the past decade, vanilla growers and industry leaders have faced a difficult situation.

On the one hand, vanilla farmers find themselves in a poverty trap: they lack efficient practices and financing to grow high-quality vanilla, and they also cannot plan the sale of cured vanilla. As a result, farmers get a low price for poor quality vanilla, reinforcing the cycle of poverty. Furthermore, vanilla prices have been subject to massive theft and high volatility due to lack of liquidity pushing farmers to harvest their vanilla too early, causing poor quality in the market. The shortage of supply of quality vanilla also causes speculation and increases the risk of theft from farmers. Additionally, extreme weather events can decimate the vanilla crop and further stress a fragile system.

Vanilla: what you need to know

Vanilla is the only edible fruit in the orchid family, the most important family of flowering plants in the world. It is a tropical orchid, and there are more than 150 varieties of vanilla, although only two types - Bourbon and Tahiti - are used commercially.

Vanilla grows in the 20 degree zone on both sides of the equator and is native to America. The best-known vanilla, Vanilla planifolia, traditionally grew wild on the Atlantic coast of the Gulf of Mexico, from Tampico to the northeastern tip of South America, and from Colima, Mexico, to Ecuador on the Pacific coast. It also grew in the Caribbean.

Until the late 19th century, Mexico monopolized vanilla cultivation, but now Madagascar produces most of the world's crop. Other countries that grow vanilla include Costa Rica, Guatemala, Uganda, Kenya, China, India, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Tonga, Fiji, Tahiti, Hawaii and other Pacific Islands.

Africa's potential is unlimited

Source: Business Insider