Vanilla. Its taste and scent remind us of childhood. But before vanilla can add flavour to your ice cream it needs to undergo a difficult journey lined with bloodied machetes, counterfeit money and greedy politicians and corporations.
Vanilla comes from Madagascar. That’s where 80 per cent of all vanilla comes from. Nowhere else can you find such ideal conditions for its production. The locals know very well how sought-after it is in Europe. The high prices should be reflected in a high living standard, but this is Africa. Out of the 25 million island population 92 per cent survive on less that two Euros per day.
Growing vanilla is one of the few opportunities to make a living. But harvest is also tempting for thieves. The farmers say that thieves rob them of up to 70 per cent of harvest. More realistically it is somewhere between 30 to 50 percent, but that doesn’t discount the fact that there’s always the shadow of death hanging over vanilla. Murdered farmers, lynched thieves. The highest punishment is usually carried out by machetes, the police is only called when the act is over. The murderers are never caught.
In Europe we are unaware of this. Restaurant owners and people from the food industry are only interested in the growing price. At the moment you can buy dried vanilla for about 670 Euro per kilo. According to many, this is a price peak, but the price spiral doesn’t seem to be ending.
The dramatic price increase is making things even worse in the countries where the spice is grown. The lucrative business is tempting even for those who have not been interested so far – with them arrives mafia and corruptible politicians. Social differences in Madagascar are constantly growing, a few people are getting richer, while the rest are poorer and poorer. A solution? As in many other cases, Fair Trade could solve the problem. Try to think of it when you’re enjoying your next vanilla ice-cream.