The article takes a quick look at some of the key issues in vanilla production: eliminating child labor, traceability, and price volatility. Given the low volumes purchased by most individual companies, very few have direct relationships with their producers, which increases the need for collective action between companies to address these issues. The Sustainable Vanilla Initiative, an organization CRS partners with, is an industry initiative designed to tackle such problems:
“The Sustainable Vanilla Initiative has combined the power of 28 corporations including General Mills, Frontier Co-op, Nestle, Unilever, Mars and McCormick — representing about 70 percent of the annual worldwide vanilla bean purchases by volume — to address the macro problems as a unit, negotiate with governments on transparency and harvest dates and invest in traceability tools.”
Support for vanilla farmers in creating a stable and transparent value chain lags behind some of the more prominent commodities on the market, like cacao and coffee, due to the sheer size of those markets and the numbers of low-income farmers involved in the production as well as the higher levels of visibility to the end consumer. It’s encouraging to see the vanilla sector follow the lead of these markets and apply some of the lessons learned from the vast efforts in those sectors, especially in the area of traceability. Given the incredible profit opportunities vanilla provides farmers and the very real environmental impacts, work in the sector, and spices in general, are worthy of a higher profile within the development community specifically and across the general population as a whole. Articles such as this help move us in that direction.
For an in-depth analysis of the vanilla sector in Uganda and a further exploration of the price volatility and profit potential of the crop, a case study completed on The Revitalizing Vanilla in Uganda project is more than worth the read.