Growing vanilla is hard, delicate work
Vanilla is grown by smallholder farmers, mainly in family plots and natural vanilla is the world’s only edible orchid. As no fertilizers or pesticides are needed, vanilla is a naturally ecologically sustainable crop. The vanilla orchids need to be hand pollinated, usually within 12 hours of blooming, which makes vanilla farming very time consuming and labour intensive. Due to the current high prices, vanilla is also subject to theft. While farmers are receiving higher prices for vanilla in the current market, which has substantially, albeit temporarily, raised incomes for farmers, they are also subject to price fluctuations due to speculation by middle men, and often lack access to information about market pricing.
Conditions are tough
Madagascan farmers are also faced with inadequate access to basic services like education, healthcare and secure housing. Most vanilla farmers live in cyclone prone areas, which affects both their vanilla crop as well as their food crops adversely, further exacerbated by changes seen in weather patterns over the last decade. Madagascar is one of the poorest countries in the world according to the UN, with a Human Development Index rank of 161 where 80% of the population are involved in agriculture.
Seeking a solution: Ben & Jerry’s, Fairtrade & You
Whilst the sustainability of vanilla farming remains a challenge, Ben & Jerry’s Fairtrade commitment means that there are significant benefits for farmers trying to address some of these challenges. The Fairtrade Minimum Price and Fairtrade Premium paid to vanilla farmers by Ben & Jerry’s, is an important part of what makes Fairtrade unique, in particular when the market price is low. The Premium is for farmers to invest in social, economic and environmental projects to improve their businesses and communities. Farmers come together and collectively vote on how they want to spend the Premium, demonstrating the empowerment, democracy and worker voice at the heart of the Fairtrade model. Vanilla farmers in Madagascar have used the Fairtrade Premium generated through Fairtrade sales in a range of ways, including to provide secure housing for themselves and their families, as well as investing in infrastructure which benefits the whole community like schools, hospitals, roads and bridges – something vanilla co-operative Association Soarano Vanille have done to great effect.
“Being in Fairtrade has brought changes and development to the area. We constructed a solid hospital building. There was no high school before , we purchased a piece of land and did the construction and paid the salaries of 4 teachers for one year”. Lucette Talava, Chairperson of Association Soarano Vanille.
You can be part of the solution too by choosing ‘Fairway to Heaven’ as your next ice-cream treat – it’s just launched as an exclusive in the Co-op to celebrate 25 years of Fairtrade – we’d love to know what you think about this saintly scoop #Fairtrade25.