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Madagascar : The World’s Leading Vanilla Producer

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Madagascar : The World’s Leading Vanilla Producer

Madagascar is the world’s leading exporter of vanilla, a reputation the island has earned thanks to Bourbon vanilla.

Growing vanilla in Madagascar

Known for its premium vanilla, Madagascar is the world’s largest producer of vanilla. Growing vanilla is a complex process that requires expertise and patience. It is important to note that vanilla is a climbing vine that requires a specific environment to grow.

Vanilla flowers are pollinated by hand, a technique that requires great skill. Harvesting takes place when the pods are light green, usually after 9 months of cultivation. Special attention is paid to drying the pods to avoid fermentation and mold.

Growing vanilla in Madagascar is not only a source of income for many farmers, it’s also a way to preserve the environment. Growing vanilla in agroforestry systems helps maintain forest ecosystems and prevent deforestation.

Different types of vanilla

Madagascar is best known for its Bourbon vanilla. In addition to this variety, Vanilla madagascariensis, which is endemic to the island and is called Amalo in Sakalava, is also grown.

  • Bourbon vanilla is internationally renowned for its unique flavor and aroma. This type of vanilla is mainly produced in the Indian Ocean region, with a specific label registered in 1964.
  • Vanilla madagascariensis is a type of vanilla endemic to Madagascar. It is less well known than Bourbon vanilla, but this quality of vanilla has a definite local importance.

These types of vanilla have characteristics that influence their use in cooking and baking. Other varieties are also grown in Madagascar but in more limited quantities.

The best vanilla in the world: Bourbon vanilla

Bourbon vanilla, the jewel of Madagascar, is renowned for its exceptional quality and unique aromas. Cultivated mainly in the SAVA region (Sambava, Antalaha, Vohemar, Andapa), this type of vanilla accounts for 80 % of the world’s production.

  • The bourbon appellation is not limited to vanilla. Bourbon vetiver and Bourbon geranium are also used in perfumery.
  • The know-how of the Malagasyga farmers is essential for the production of this vanilla. They have mastered several crucial aspects of the production process, from improving soil quality and climate to manual pollination, drying, roasting, disgorging, and quality control.
  • Pollination, which must be done artificially due to the lack of endemic insect pollinators, is a key stage in the cultivation of Bourbon vanilla.

Vanilla Production and Export in Madagascar

Considered « green gold », Madagascar is the world’s leading exporter of vanilla, accounting for about 75 % of the world total. This crop gives Madagascar a significant competitive advantage, contributing 62 % of the agricultural sector’s income and 37.7 % of the primary sector’s income.

According to the National Institute of Statistics (INSTAT), Madagascar’s vanilla production is estimated at 1,454 tons in 2019, rising to 1,724 tons in 2020. Its main competitors, such as Comoros, India, Indonesia, Uganda, and Papua, produce a total of less than 500 tons per year. The main importing countries include the USA, with 810 tons marketed by Madagascar, followed by France with 339 tons, and Germany with 234 tons in 2020.

Madagascar does not only excel in vanilla production. Indeed, the Big Island is the leading producer of luxury caviar in Africa.

SWOT analysis of Madagascar’s vanilla exports

Strengths of the Madagascar vanilla industry

  • Tropical climate
  • High quality of Madagascar vanilla
  • High vanillin content in Madagascar vanilla
  • Madagascar vanilla is certified organic, with the « Vanille Bourbon » label

Weaknesses in vanilla production

  • Insecurity: Vanilla thieves force farmers to collect their crops early
  • Lack of management and organization
  • Lack of technology
  • Lack of government commitment

Opportunities in the Global Vanilla Market

  • Demand for vanilla is growing worldwide as many new products require vanilla as an ingredient.
  • Consumers largely prefer Madagascar vanilla, which they perceive as natural and organic.
  • Motivating investors and financial institutions
  • Madagascar’s competitive advantage

Threats: Madagascar vanilla prices and offers

  • Competition
  • Price instability
  • Climate change
  • Weak research and development in the sector
  • International standards are not always followed by farmers
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