The winners and losers in Madagascar's Vanilla gold rush
Short supply and rising demand have made vanilla more valuable than silver in Madagascar. Farmers and hustlers are getting rich quick, but there are worries that the market could suddenly collapse.
“The story of the vanilla from just last year is amazing because the price from the green vanilla increased from $1 to $50”, says exporter Yohan Lajoux. This exponential rise in value has brought unprecedented wealth to people at all levels of the industry, and the streets of Sambava have become replete with shiny new motorbikes and flashy jewellery. Yet vanilla is not an easy crop; originally from Mexico, in Madagascar it must be pollinated by hand and the flower is only receptive for a few hours a year. The crop is so valuable it is often guarded 24/7, and thieves are treated harshly – sometimes even killed by angry farmers. As time goes on it is becoming increasingly difficult to get a decent crop, and yields are steadily falling. “Climate is changing, and we have difficulties to have a lot of vanilla like before”, says Lajoux. After a year of poor harvests, there are concerns that the bubble of prosperity may burst without warning. “It’s a bit like poker”, says business owner Daniel Goltran. “We invest. We buy. But we don’t know what the price of vanilla will be.”FULL SYNOPSIS