Madagascar is the leading exporter of vanilla, one of the world’s most valuable and sought-after spices. Malagasies often refer to native flora, vanilla, as the “life-force” of the country.
Despite the fact that 80% of the vanilla on the global market originates from Madagascar, vanilla farmers are living near or below the poverty level and in constant fear of losing their crop to theft. About three out of four vanilla farmers live on around one euro per day.
The hefty prize hike on the world’s most sought after food flavouring, due to weather or poor harvest, has been well documented over the years. Last year’s cyclone in Madagascar hit the vanilla crops hard, and the price of vanilla soared to $600 per kilogram. But something more menacing yet under-reported has been wreaking havoc on the vanilla trade in recent times.
Madagascar has seen traditional farming methods upset by a recent craving for the spice in China. While the Madagascan government stands by, Chinese profiteers are having a negative impact and detrimental effect on the vanilla industry.
A recent influx of Chinese investors has led to increased productivity to meet rising international demand. But many local growers say they have not been reaping the benefits as most of the profits have been flowing into foreign hands.
Instead prices for their crops are being forced down and there are negative consequences for quality and sustainability. With most Malagasies already living at or below the poverty line, the long-term prospects for their livelihoods are concerning.
In the documentary, Madagascan Vanilla Trade Controlled By Chinese Businesses,
French filmmaker Chris Huby asks whether China is offering an economic lifeline to one of the world’s poorest countries or exploiting this resource-rich land. You can view the film above.
Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief @rosamedea