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Le retour en force des premières nations dans la filière de vanille du Mexique.

The return of the first nations to the Mexican vanilla industry.

It's freezing in Xilitla!

Five degrees celcius when I woke up! Not exactly beach weather! According to the vainilleros (as vanilla growers are known in Latin America), this cold temperature is quite exceptional for the region. However, in the thatched cottages, the discussions are heated. With good reason: vanilla prices have plummeted so much due to the closure of hotels and restaurants around the world, that several vanilla-growing regions such as Madagascar and Papua have experienced severe famines.

Hence the reason for my trip. A group of indigenous Maya Huastek from the state of San Luis Potosi have requested a meeting with me to see if they can confidently export the beans themselves (and how!).

One of the main reasons why the Huastek Maya are often exploited is their lack of knowledge of the Spanish language, and even more so of the languages of the importing countries. So it took several days of painstaking, patient discussion before we reached agreement on how to achieve the desired quality, organize suitable packaging for transport, and put in place the necessary bookkeeping, invoicing and export elements. Setting up this fledgling association will certainly take several months' work, but thanks to the intelligence and resourcefulness of Zenon Martinez Reyes, we'll probably start receiving gourmet-quality Huasteka vanilla from next year so that they can receive an even better price for their work, but for now, it's extract-quality vanilla that we're bringing back from Huasteka country.

State Council of the Vainillos of Veracruz

History of the emancipation of the Vainilleros Totonaco

What struck me most when I met Don Crispin was the immense respect and reverence shown by everyone who passed him in my presence. That a humble peasant should be called "Don" by everyone was intriguing enough. The man is modest, highly animated and endowed with remarkable physical and intellectual vivacity. Totonaque and proud, he has spent almost seventy years of his life working with vanilla. When he tells his story, full of laughter and sparkling eyes, everyone listens and laughs along with him at the stories they know by heart.

This is because this man has faced and overcome all the difficulties of a world that is merciless to peasants, and above all to natives, without fear or faltering, despite the constant threats to his life and that of his family, because his goal was bigger than himself: there are over a thousand families of native vainilleros, all owners of their own finca, who now benefit from the emancipation work accomplished by the establishment of this association, so powerful that it sets the regional price for vanilla. He told me that, before they had access to the real buying prices in consumer countries (thanks to the Internet), local collectors used to buy green vanilla (before preparation) at 3 pesos a kilo, and reserved for themselves the processing of the vanilla (rightly called "beneficio" in Mexico) to amass a higher profit margin.

Indeed, it was with infinite contempt that the wealthy owners of exporting companies mocked him again this year in the local newspapers, saying that "the industry is so moribund that it's now an Indian who sets vanilla prices". If I may say so, I think it's their way of doing business that's moribund, because Don Crispin's association is flourishing!

What's more, thanks to him, consumers in Quebec and Canada will have access to vanilla of exceptional quality, fairer than it's possible to be, free of the slightest chemical input, and at a price that's finally reasonable because it's not taxed by local collectors.

Tradition and quality

Here Don Crispin explains the use of mats in the sun-drying process

The process of processing vanilla was invented over 2000 years ago by the Totonaque nation, who used it in cooking, religious rituals and trade with the Aztecs. After a period of almost 500 years during which the Totonacs were deprived of their ability to market the fruits of their labor, fate has given this nation a new pride, a veritable renaissance: a powerful association of Totonaque vanilla producers.

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3 comments

  • Daniel Marquis

    Simplement savoir d’où vient ma vanille va donner un goût différent à mes crêpes du samedi matin ! Daniel de Bromont

  • Caroline Laplante

    Merci de nous faire découvrir la réalité des producteurs e de nous permettre de bénéficier de leur savoir-faire! Vive la vanille équitable!

  • Ginette Moreau

    Merci pour ce magnifique texte qui nous fait comprendre comment Colibri Vanille va à la rencontre de petits producteurs locaux, dans des échanges gagnant-gagnant! Comme c’est inspirant! Bravo!

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