Many things are told in the media, but few of these stories really come close to reality, because reality is multifactorial, on the one hand; and that it affects actors in the sector differently, whether one is a producer, collector, exporter or trader ... and whether one has it in Madagascar or elsewhere.
Indeed, if each vanilla exporting country meets its own market realities, it is undeniable that the tribulations of Madagascar have an influence on international prices. It is often said here that when the United States sneezes, Canada catches a cold; The same goes for the vanilla sector: when Madagascar sneezes, all the vanilla producing countries in the world suffer the consequences.
It will be my pleasure to share with you information about the various factors involved, whether it is the question of potsa (immature vanilla stolen from the plant) sold by smugglers to collectors; or vanilla growers who choose to pick them themselves before the thieves, tired of receiving the same prices, regardless of whether they produce quality or not; the price pressure that this puts on the new producing countries which sell at a high price a product which they do not know, often mediocre, and which has neither taste quality nor quality of finish ... Another time i address the issue of hurricanes, droughts and climate change ....
But here I will only approach one angle, that of the responsibility of the World Bank, France and the French oil company Elf Aquitaine in this crisis.
For 150 years, it was the French colonies that carried the torch for the development of crosses, perfumes, preparation and drying techniques, which even today places them at the forefront of the quality of the finished product. Moreover, it should be noted that no other exporting country comes close to the producers of Madagascar, Reunion or the producers of the Polynesian Islands in terms of the quality of the finish.
And during the first 120 years of this reign, the vanilla sector remained relatively stable.
However, the vanilla planet experienced a first major economic shock at the turn of the 90s, under pressure from the World Bank, to which Madagascar owed supposedly a lot of money. In reality, Madagascar was forced to give up its price controls, abandoning its vanilla farmers to the merciless grip of the big world players because of the implications of France, and the oil company ELF Aquitaine.
"It can only really be understood in the light of the complex relations between the oil company, the political power in place and the various states concerned. "Real complexity, but whose purpose is simple with regard to the African continent: Elf was and remains an essential part of the neo-colonial system set up by Paris, a few years after independence, in order to maintain its economic and political supervision on the countries of its former formally emancipated meadow.
If you doubt it, know that 1989, la oil Elf Aquitaine filed a European invention patent for the creation of vanilla extract from green vanilla. For the vanilla producers of Madagascar, the dice were loaded. Their main financial activity had been stabbed in the heart.
By purchasing the rights to this patent, Elf Aquitaine ensured that green vanilla was purchased by the manufacturers of their choice and thus controlled the sales and therefore the prices of more than 90% of the vanilla produced in the former colonies.
In addition, they destabilized the entire industry by cutting short the ripening and finishing and rejecting the blame on Malagasy farmers, smugglers, hurricanes ...
Eventually, Madagascar introduced control measures to limit the market for vanilla aged less than 7 months; and a system of approval and market opening limited to specific dates has been put in place. The objective was to maintain quality standards for buyers of vanilla pods, but in truth, this approval system only served European companies holding the green vanilla extraction patent because the holders of the approval exporters mainly buy and resell green vanilla in bulk. The rest of the green vanilla picked before maturity is then steamed and dried, lowering the quality of the dried and prepared vanilla to a very poor level, while subjecting it to price pressure from extract manufacturers.
Since growers no longer have a financial advantage in producing vanilla pods of gastronomic quality, they have adapted to the market by lowering their standards themselves and destabilizing the entire Madagascan vanilla sector.
How do you get good vanilla pods today?
Colibri Vanille bypasses collectors with export approval by going under speed cameras and buying directly from the rare vanilla growers who choose to maintain high quality standards, but we are still subject to the mandatory dates of the government decree, between March 31 and October 15. And therefore subject to the game of speculation which is activated in September to reach a plateau between November and February. As of March, the fever resumes in the thatched cottages of Madagascar, and the prices go up in arrow, therefore it is prudent to make its purchases before the month of March.
What about Madagascan collectors with accreditation?
Only 200 approvals are issued each year to collectors who soon found themselves, in turn, grappling with the laws of a cruel market. When some made a fortune by buying vanilla from the peasants at a low price and reselling it at a high price, and even at a very high price in the aftermath of cyclones or roundups of smugglers; several other collectors were bankrupt when prices collapsed, abandoned by their buyers of vanilla pods, but still in possession of poor quality vanilla bought above the sale price and which they had to sell below their prices. Thus, many bankruptcies occurred in March 2019 with Madagascan collectors.
Between 2015 and 2019, prices rose to a high level, flirting with the $ 600 mark in 2018 and rarely falling below $ 400 since. (The going price in fall 2019 was around $ 420 per kilo.) The spike is sometimes attributed to a 2015 announcement by Nestlé SA that the company would only use all-natural vanilla in its products instead of l artificial flavor, pushing other large companies to follow suit through a domino game. The real impact of the decision is the subject of debate.
Regardless of the validity of these speculations, few people in the industry say that the demand for natural vanilla has changed enough to protect prices from another drop. Almost everyone in the vanilla industry thinks that a significant drop in prices is not a question of if, but rather a question of when.
And when more than 80% of the vanilla industry comes from the island of Madagascar alone, the rest of the world takes it for its cold.