Vanilla and men

For 150 years, it was the French colonies that carried the torch of the development of crosses, perfumes, process and drying techniques, which still places them today in the first rank of the quality of the finished product.

However, the vanilla planet experienced its first major economic shake-up at the turn of the 90s. Under pressure from the World Bank, to which it owed a lot of money, Madagascar was forced to give up its price control, abandoning its vanilla farmers to the merciless grip of the world's major producers of flavours such as Coca Cola, Nielsen-Massey or Nestlé.

Eventually, control measures were put in place to counter the savage capitalism faced by peasants, and a system of approval and market opening limited to specific dates was put in place.

Only 200 approvals are issued each year to collectors who have soon, in turn, been confronted with the laws of a cruel market. When some made their fortunes in the beginning by buying vanilla from farmers at low prices and reselling it at a high price, several collectors went bankrupt when prices collapsed, abandoned by their buyers and still holders of vanilla bought above the selling price.

Over the past four years, prices have risen to a high level, flirting with the $600 mark in 2018 and rarely falling below $400 since. (The current rate in the fall of 2019 was about $420 per kilo.) The peak is sometimes attributed to a 2015 announcement by Nestlé SA that the company would only use all-natural vanilla in its products instead of artificial flavoring. Other companies have followed suit. The real impact of the decision is being debated.

So, pandemic or not, vanilla prices were about to fall. Today, everyone in vanilla field thinks that current vanilla prices are here to last. It is now up to the Malagasy government to better distinguish the floor price for each quality.