Framework for Sustainable Vanilla Cultivation in Madagascar

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Munshi, Erika


Kramer, Randall

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Although synonymous with “boring” in modern rhetoric, vanilla is anything but mundane. At a price point of 600USD per kilo, vanilla is the second most expensive spice traded globally. While the luxury price tag of vanilla might be suggestive of a particularly lucrative industry, the vanilla market is plagued with instability, resulting in unsustainable ecological, social, and economic practices. Individual vanilla farmers have relatively little influence over the market price of vanilla. If a farmer perceives the value of vanilla to be too low for a given year, they may choose to rapidly clear land for subsistence crops, namely rice, in order to provide food security for their families. There is widespread concern that land clearing, particularly through slash and burn practices, adversely impacts biodiversity in Madagascar. In order to support the long-term sustainability of Malagasy vanilla, my research measures the ecological, economic, and social impacts of the vanilla industry through remote sensing, survey data, and focus groups. In order to measure the ecological impact of the vanilla industry, I chose to focus my analysis on two primary issues: deforestation and slash-and-burn agriculture. To measure deforestation in Madagascar, I used the Global Forest Change (2000-2018) dataset produced by Hansen et al (2013). As a measure of slash-and-burn agriculture, I used the MODIS Thermal Anomalies/Fire dataset produced by Giglio et al (2015). I then identified several environmental and market variables to use as inputs in a geospatial linear mixed model. From the results of the ecological analysis, we can draw several conclusions about the future ecological sustainability of the vanilla industry. The results of the two geospatial linear mixed models suggest that vanilla cultivation in itself is not a driver of forest loss or slash and burn activity. This is consistent with previous research that found vanilla-producing areas to have lower rates of deforestation. In the case of forest loss, the model found annual rice cultivation and population size to be significant indicators of deforestation, suggesting that deforestation will continue to be a concern as population density increases and there is greater demand for rice. The results of the survey and focus group responses illustrate the financial challenges vanilla farmers face including theft, price volatility, advanced payment schemes, and lack of financial institutions. The findings of this analysis confirm that the threat of theft forces farmers to harvest prematurely which compromises the quality of the vanilla beans and creates distrust and instability in the market. Price volatility, driven by a lack of quality control among other aspects, leaves farmers vulnerable and compromises their ability to plan for the future. These results also illustrate the role of advanced payments, which provide relief during times of hardship, but also create cycles of debt that can entrap vanilla farmers and encourage dependency on certificate programs. Lastly, limited access to banking and loan mechanisms leaves farmers unable to create financial stability amidst a volatile market. This perpetuates financial dependence on vanilla buyers and makes it challenging for farmers to afford other necessities like healthcare. Analysis of survey and focus group responses also illustrate the impact of vanilla market factors on food security and health. Despite having high levels of reported food insecurity, farmers elect to grow vanilla over subsistence crops because it has the potential to generate enough income to afford food as well as other necessities. This illustrates the risky dynamism of the vanilla industry, which can be rewarding in good years, but particularly challenging in bad years. The vanilla industry also has multifaceted impacts on health and well being. The high price of vanilla creates adverse health outcomes when farmers are forced to sleep in their fields in order to guard their vanilla. These negative health outcomes may be relieved, however, by health insurance coverage paid for by certificate programs. Because health is intimately tied to the ability to cultivate vanilla, health care access is vital to promote livelihoods.





Munshi, Erika (2020). Framework for Sustainable Vanilla Cultivation in Madagascar. Master's project, Duke University. Retrieved from

Dukes student scholarship is made available to the public using a Creative Commons Attribution / Non-commercial / No derivative (CC-BY-NC-ND) license.