In late February of 2017, a market report was released by a European company that has been in the vanilla business for more than 100 years and is known for their honest and reliable industry assessments. The report addressed the chaotic conditions on the ground in Madagascar. It also provided a clearer picture of what to expect when the 2017 crop is harvested in May/June and what to anticipate in November when the beans are ready to be sold on the wholesale market.
Did you know there is a dark side to fair trade vanilla?
According to the World Fair Trade Organization, the definition of Fair Trade is as follows:
“Fair Trade is a trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency and respect, that seek greater equity in international trade. It contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, marginalized producers and workers – especially in the South. Fair Trade Organizations, backed by consumers, are engaged actively in supporting producers, awareness raising and in campaigning for changes in the rules and practice of conventional international trade.”
What’s not to like about this? Fairness for farmers, which helps them and their families to thrive as well as to continue to produce the foods, spices and other ingredients that we love and use regularly.
As a serious food enthusiast, along with my dedication to equitable opportunities for farmers, one of my favorite activities is visiting farms. No matter if they flourish in a temperate or tropical climate, I always learn from the farmers as well as from the plants, birds, insects and animals who call the farms their home. I indulged this passion during my recent trip to Costa Rica where I toured farms in the mountainous San Carlos district, a rain forest region in Alajuela province, famous for fine Arabica coffee, sugar cane, pineapples and cattle production. Vanilla is now grown on a few farms in this district, usually in tandem with other crops, including commercial production of trees for use in home building. From there I continued down to a vanilla and spice farm in the lowland Central Pacific coastal region in Quepos district, Puntarenas province.
In 2013 I was contacted by the National University of Costa Rica to speak at a round-table conference on vanilla in 2016. I was both honored and excited by the prospects of returning to Costa Rica after 52 years (which sounds impossible, but it’s true).
Beautiful, exotic Mexico. Warm weather, gorgeous beaches, a rich and varied culture, delicious food, and…the birthplace of vanilla. Some of you may be thinking, “Well, duh! I buy my fabulous vanilla there every time I visit.” In which case you should take a moment to read about your fabulous vanilla here. Otherwise, here is a brief overview of the history of the Mexican vanilla industry and why Mexican vanilla beans are difficult to come by today.
For an update on the 2016 vanilla shortage, please see “Why is Vanilla so Expensive?“
Have you noticed that vanilla prices have been creeping up for the last two years?
Well, now the price of vanilla has gone through the roof!
Frustrating? You bet, especially as we enter the autumn baking season and the holidays.
So why are the prices climbing and where can you find cheap vanilla? It turns out the answer is complicated.
Think shortage – One cyclone can wipe out a third of the year’s vanilla crop overnight!
Nearly everything we purchase is priced according to supply and demand, and this is especially true with food. Whereas clothing, washing machines, cars and other man-made goods typically are pretty consistently available, agricultural products are subject to weather patterns, pests, pathogens and even human manipulation.
Because we live in a global economy, if there’s a wheat shortage due to bad weather in our Midwest, our government can buy wheat from another country. Prices will go up, but bakeries won’t shut down and flour will still be on market shelves. The same is true with last year’s egg shortage. Avian Flu decimated many commercial egg producing facilities but only in some regions. We could still find eggs at the market, but we paid dearly for them. Now, almost a year later, there is a glut of eggs again.
Changing the World One Woman at a Time
African Women’s Leadership Summits:
Kenya and Uganda 2013
On July 29th, 2013, I leave for East Africa. I’ll be facilitating two African Women’s Leadership Summits, then visiting the farms and projects of many of these women leaders. Also, I will finally meet, in person, hundreds of generous, caring farmers who prayed for my survival during my battle with terminal Cancer!
Our Goal: Establish a Women Leaders Cooperative Throughout East Africa.
Women’s Leadership Summits
In 2005, I was one of twenty women in the inaugural Women Leaders for the World (WLW) training program at Santa Clara University. This program, conceived by the Global Women’s Leadership Network, was designed to further empower women leaders in their work, locally, nationally and internationally.
This report comes from Aust and Hachmann, Canada and is based on the North American Vanilla Bean Importer’s
Association (NAVBIA) report. I am adding to this report the latest information on Mexican beans.
Mexico had a disastrous year in 2011 due to extreme heat and drought, and had 10% of their normal crop. 2012 was far less hot and there was ample rainfall. Unfortunately, the plants were so stressed from the previous year that the crop was again 10% of normal. There will be very few beans coming from Mexico this year. Hopefully there will be enough to produce extracts, but at this time we simply don’t know what to expect. [PR]
As farmers anywhere in the world can testify, as the climate changes, so does the health of their crops. For those of us who are not farmers, we hear a lot about the effects of climate change in the arctic and antarctic but we don’t hear much about what’s happening in the tropical regions of the world. Unfortunately, the temperature has risen about 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) in the last 25 years or so, which is significant for coffee, vanilla and cacao. Here is one man who is doing what he can to bring change to southern Mexico. This article is from the Nature Conservancy. [PR]
Another vanilla crisis? Didn’t we just have one?
Yep, we sure did and the price of a little bottle of vanilla was ridiculously high! So how can this be happening again? Sadly, very easily. Worse, it shouldn’t have to happen!
In the commodity world the operative words are supply and demand. When it comes to anything grown in the tropics, most especially luxury crops like coffee, chocolate, vanilla and sugar, supply and demand are
How do we measure time? Years, decades, significant events, transformative experiences?
I’ve been pondering this over the past few weeks for a couple of reasons. The Vanilla Company launched ten years ago August 21st.
Three weeks later, we collectively paused to acknowledge the impact of 9-11 and the ensuing decade. Ironically, it was while using 9-11 as a measure of this last decade that I was better able to grasp the impact of my own business on my life.
When Gina and I talked over lunch on our company’s anniversary, we reflected on all that transpired during our decade of running the company. Our conclusion? That we have remained in business for a decade is a miracle! A month later, I realize that for me, this has been a decade of miracles.
I wanted to launch a business for a long time. I come from a family of entrepreneurs, risk takers with a strong creative bent, so the idea of launching an Internet business seemed perfectly reasonable even though it was still early in the world of online retail.
The North American Vanilla Bean Importers Association (NAVBIA) has launched a new website. The association was formed by several vanilla trading companies who are very concerned about the continued low prices of vanilla and how this is affecting vanilla growers worldwide. The low prices, caused in part by companies who are not adhering to the FDA regulations for the use of pure vanilla in frozen desserts and other foods, the NAVBIA has taken a proactive stance about this issue with the hope that manufacturers who have been violating the law, will move into compliance.
Theresia Ndirangu is a single, 42-year-old Kikuyu woman from Kenya with both the focus and determination to succeed at anything she believes in, despite having faced staggering hardships. Her goal is to earn her Masters and PhD degrees in Applied Human Nutrition. Her dream is to receive a masters and Ph.D., then to return to Kenya and work with an international organization in support of tribal women farmers. As up to 80% of the farmers in developing countries, especially in Africa, are women, this is a critically important goal both for Africa and for the world.
Some changes have occurred in the world market over the last year which may be helpful for farmers growing certain luxury crops. Unfortunately, it’s often at the expense of other farmers. The January floods in North- and Southeast Australia, Sri Lanka and Brazil have caused tremendous suffering for thousands of people. We are definitely seeing the effects of global climate change and the tropics are experiencing extreme weather events.
Here are the current updates on pricing and availability for coffee, tea, cacao, vanilla and sugar. The prices can change very quickly as you know, so this is simply a guideline for what to anticipate.
Written by Sarah Osterhoudt of From the Field Trading
When my husband and I first walked through the forest vanilla gardens in the community of Imorona, Madagascar, where we spent two-and-a-half years as Peace Corps Environment Volunteers, we were amazed by the diversity of the landscape. We observed vanilla vines growing interspersed with fruit trees, clove trees, timber trees, food crops, medicinal herbs, palm trees and coffee plants. A day working with farmers in their fields inevitably included taking breaks to enjoy some bananas, to share a jackfruit together or to drink coconut water for a burst of energy. We soon learned to appreciate all the skill and hard work families put into their fields to keep them both productive and beautiful.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has released a report that sounds straight out of the early
19th century. Unfortunately, it’s occurring in 2010 right here in the USA.
The 300,000 – 400,000 children who labor in the fields here in our country, typically
work 10 hours a day (more during harvest), five to seven days a week. They earn much less than the minimum wage,
and their hours are often underreported by their supervisors.
In the summer of 2007 I met Chris Barden of Worldwide Farmers Exchange (WFE), a program operating out of Berkeley California. We were attending an event at Santa Clara University. Over lunch together, I learned that Chris was interested in finding women farmers to participate in their exchange program. I was interested in WFE as many of the farmers I have met via my site want very much to gain new skills sets to assist them in their countries of origin. I’m sharing information about the Worldwide Farmers Exchange as one possible option for those of you interested in learning new agricultural work that could benefit you and your country as well as to encourage those readers who have farms to
When Lulu Sturdy inherited her uncle’s run-down Ugandan estate, she found herself alone on a failing farm in a war zone. Seven years on, she has built it into a Fairtrade phenomenon.
Courtesy of Lulu Sturdy
Two violent incidents brought me to where I am today. The first was the unexpected death of my uncle, the day after I arrived in Uganda to see him; the second, the attempted murder of my Ugandan farm manager, three years later. The first I came to see as serendipity, the second as rocket fuel.
Serendipity landed me, aged 30, on unruly Ndali farm, with its tourist lodge, in Western Uganda while its manager and visionary – my uncle, Mark Price – was being buried in Yorkshire. It was originally an emergency measure. I was expecting to be back within a couple of months making furniture near Chipping Norton – doughnuts, strong coffee, ear-defenders and biscuit jointer (my favourite “bodge-it” tool for avoiding a mortice and tenon) by day, a pint of Hook Norton and steak and kidney pie by night. Instead, these faded into the distance along with eight nephews and nieces, a five-year-long relationship, a red Ford Escort (an inheritance from my grandmother and which passed away during my first year away during a joyride around an Oxfordshire industrial estate), and heaps of books on Tibetan Buddhism.
Seven years on, I am still in Uganda, smitten with a rare gift: the liberating feeling from top to toe that I am in the right place, at the right time, doing the right thing, no matter what the complications.
Preventing and Managing Fusarium
Courtesy of David Gardella: www.rainforestvanilla.org
Vanilla is a magnificent tropical crop, but it comes with challenges. Most vanilla producers fall in love with vanilla as she draws everyone under her spell. Vanilla requires no special fertilizers or pesticides. It thrives on a simple mulch of leaves, twigs, coconut husks, etc. While it does have problems with insects in its native habitats, these problems are generally not severe, especially if the vines are getting the right balance of sun and shade and protection from wind and heavy downpours. It does require adequate water and a dry spell during pollination. Otherwise, it is a very pleasant crop to grow.
There is only one significant disease in vanilla; root rot disease caused by the pathogen Fusarium oxysporum. All other diseases are insignificant in importance or merely minor pests with little economic affect on yield. Fusarium is “the scourge” of vanilla. It can and does completely destroy vanilla plantations in a matter of weeks-to-months. When it appears in your plantation there is nothing you can do to stop it. Plant another crop or… take the following recommendations to heart and start all over again but this time manage your plantation correctly.
Fusarium isn’t actually the culprit in this drama. Fusarium is just an opportunistic fungus that arrives after the damage has already been done. The theory of vanilla root rot disease goes like this:
Courtesy of Mike Keller:
Jatropha curcas, a humble tropical shrub-like tree often used as a living fence in developing countries, may actually be headed for star status as a prime source of bio-fuel in the 21st century.
As research scientists and engineers first considered biofuels in the US and Europe, ethanol made from corn and biodiesel derived from soybeans, looked very promising. Good for the farmers, easy to grow and inexpensive. What wasn’t taken into consideration was that the increased demand would send prices for these commodities sky-high. While this was a welcome windfall for farmers growing the crops, it created a series of serious issues and ultimately it doomed the industry for a number of reasons, not the least of which was that it became virtually impossible for the producers of the fuels to make money.