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Creating shared value

Living in rural Madagascar

For many Malagasies, traditional small-scale farming is their only source of income. With the country’s population rising sharply, the natural environment is under increasing pressure.

40m

The population of Madagascar is expected to double to 40 million by 2050

6

The average Malagasy family consists of two parents and four children

50%

Half of Malagasies live below the poverty line

A year in the life of a vanilla farmer

For rural communities dependent on farming, financial uncertainty is a fact of life. We’re seeking to understand the impact of this uncertainty and improve farmers' livelihoods. This begins with understanding everything they do, month to month.

January

All flowers have been pollinated, but there are 6-7 months until the harvest. Vanilla farmers may continue to sell their vanilla in advance for a low price to make ends meet.

February

New vanilla vines planted for those who wish to enlarge their fields. Maintenance of vanilla fields and other crops, for those that have them.

March

Early rice is harvested for those who do rice cultivation. Vanilla is maintained, with four months left until the harvest.

April

Food prices stabilise as other crops are harvested. Farmers begin tagging their vanilla as they reach the critical, last two months of maturation.

May

Second big rice harvest arrives. Farmers may accept low prices for their vanilla harvest in advance to cover the costs of the week-long Malagasy Independence day celebrations.

June

As harvest time approaches, farmers do not like to leave their farms as they are nervous about their vanilla being robbed.

July

Harvest time for farmers in Andapa. Market day arrives as goods are weighed, paid for in bags of cash, and sealed.

August

Curing process begins with sorting, then warming or ‘killing’, then sweating and steaming. Pods are then dried in the sun for two weeks.

September

Harvested vanilla is now slow dried in the shade and spread on sieves to dry in well-ventilated rooms. Starting in September, new vanilla begins to flower. Cloves are harvested and money from the vanilla harvest is used for the “Famadihana” ceremony (Aug-Dec).

October

The vanilla flower will only last one day. Farmers must inspect their plantations every day for open flowers and hand-pollinate. Children are back to school and farmers need money. Farmers not preparing their own vanilla may sell their next year’s harvest in advance, at a low price.

November

Hand pollination of vanilla flowers continues. Farmers only pollinate five to six flowers from 20 on each raceme. Over-pollination will result in disease and inferior quality.

December

Harvested vanilla pods are put into metallic boxes for export. Farmers rest, but also need money to cover Christmas and New Year festivities so may sell the remainder of their vanilla pods to exporters.

Creating shared value

In 2006, we became the first flavour and scent company to have its own operations in Madagascar. From the outset we were committed to working with the local farmers and their communities to establish a supply chain that created shared value for everyone involved.

7,000

We have direct partnerships with 7,000 farmers

40,000

Over 40,000 people benefit directly or indirectly from Symrise’s activities

700,000

Since 2011, we’ve distributed over 700,000 seeds for merbau trees – a tropical timber

Increasing food security

While the SAVA region of Madagascar, where we operate, has enough to eat year round – largely thanks to the benefits brought by vanilla, or ‘black gold’ – the same is not true across the rest of the country.

Malagasies eat more rice per person than anyone else in the world. It‘s usual for families to eat rice three times a day, occasionally accompanied by vegetables or broth. Meat is a luxury for almost all people in Madagascar.

Although most of the year there is enough to eat in the SAVA region where Symrise operates, the same is not true across the rest of the country. Most people’s diets are not very varied, which can lead to malnutrition, particularly in children. Helping farmers to increase the range of crops they grow is one way to help combat this.

The need for food can drive farmers to sell their crops at discounted rates in advance of the vanilla harvest for ready cash. To help combat this, we’ve been working with local communities and distributing rice to farmers during times where supplies are short.

Rice for all

We provide farmers with rice supplies on credit during the lean season so they don’t need to sell their vanilla beans early at reduced prices.

Growing new routes to security

We’re helping farmers to grow additional crops on their vanilla plots, reducing their reliance on the vanilla harvest and providing additional income without contributing to deforestation.

Fighting poverty through crop diversification

We encourage and support farmers to grow a variety of crops including cocoa, cloves, cinnamon, pepper and vetiver. Grown on the same plots as vanilla, these crops provide extra income without contributing to deforestation.

The grass is greener
Scenting new possibilities for diversification

Supporting farmers to diversify the range of crops they grow is essential to increasing their financial security, as it reduces their dependence on their vanilla crop. Vetiver serves a dual purpose. It’s not only an alternative source of income, but also helps to prevent soil erosion thanks to its strong, long roots.

It took five or more of us about 10 minutes to dig out just one vetiver grass. Being in Madagascar really makes you realise just how hard the farmers work.

Dr Benoit Join, Laboratory Manager

Planted and harvested as a catch crop, this quick growing sweet grass provides oils used in perfume production. “As part of a scent expedition in 2014, I saw the growing and harvesting of vetiver first hand,” says Dr Benoit Join, a Laboratory Manager at Symrise. “It’s a fascinating natural oil and seeing it growing in Madagascar was a real inspiration for my work.”

Cocoa has always been a major export of Madagascar, one of the few locations where the Criollo, a variety appreciated for its texture and flavour, is grown.

Often used as an ingredient in pickling spice blends, syrups for poaching fruits, and in spice blends for making mulled cider or wine, cloves are a versatile spice.

Cinnamon is a favourite holiday spice, perfect for Christmas cookies and mulled wine. Cinnamon from Madagascar is quite different from Chinese Cinnamon (Cassia) being both sweeter and more delicate.

Malagasy pepper is one of the world's rarest peppers. Less spicy than black pepper, it retains the typical aromatic base but with a distinctive flavor and aroma, with fruity, citrus and floral notes.

Judith Fredette Tabavy
Nursery operator and vanilla farmer

Judith Fredette Tabavy is a vanilla farmer and mother of two. From the outside, Judith’s hut looks like many others in Mandena; wooden walls, a curatin instead of a door, the kitchen outside the house. But behind the house, there's a difference. Tiny clove seedlings are growing in plastic pots under a wooden frame, protected from the scorching sun by bamboo branches.

These will one day provide additional income to farmers who have traditionally been heavily dependent on the vanilla harvest, all as part of our initiative to help farmers diversify their crops and improve both their soil and livelihoods. Another major benefit of the alternative crops is that they offer farmers an income source that’s available year-round. The scheme has been a hit with the farmers, who Judith says have welcomed the project with open arms.

When the plants are the right size, the farmers can put them out in the fields and will be able to offer a new product in four to five years.

Judith Fredette Tabavy

Creating self-sufficient communities

With thousands of vanilla farmers scattered across hundreds of remote villages, it’s vital that the knowledge required to farm sustainably is held and shared locally.

Local training by local people

Our farmer field schools train selected farmers from each village in certification processes, sustainable farming practices, and soil and slope management so they can pass this knowledge on to the other farmers in their communities.

Supporting the next generation

The population of Madagascar is growing at a rapid pace. The fragile educational system, however, is subject to increasing spending cuts. As part of our commitment to creating sustainable communities, we support education in the villages where the vanilla farmers live.

We’re working in local communities to improve primary school pass rates.

One of the big problems facing schools across Madagascar is the cost of employing teachers. Parents’ associations will often take on this task, which leads to high costs for large families and is one of the reasons for declining school attendance rates. Books and other materials are also often rare.

We want to give the families better future prospects. A good education helps in two ways; either the young people use their knowledge to assist their families’ operations, or they find a well-paid job and support their families in this way.

Laurence Briand

We co-fund the parental contribution of vanilla farmers to encourage them to send their children to school. Additionally, we provide grants for schoolteachers who are not supported by the state, and for school maintenance and equipment. We’re also committed to helping the higher school level by subsidising the establishment of three Maisoin Familiale Rurales; schools which educate young people in rural and agricultural skills.

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We’re working in local communities to improve primary school pass rates.

One of the big problems facing schools across Madagascar is the cost of employing teachers. Parents’ associations will often take on this task, which leads to high costs for large families and is one of the reasons for declining school attendance rates. Books and other materials are also often rare.

We co-fund the parental contribution of vanilla farmers to encourage them to send their children to school. Additionally, we provide grants for schoolteachers who are not supported by the state, and for school maintenance and equipment. We’re also committed to helping the higher school level by subsidising the establishment of three Maisoin Familiale Rurales; schools which educate young people in rural and agricultural skills.

We want to give the families better future prospects. A good education helps in two ways; either the young people use their knowledge to assist their families’ operations, or they find a well-paid job and support their families in this way.

Laurence Briand

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Providing practical education for young people

By subsidizing Maison Familiale Rurale schools, we’re helping young people through education that mixes formal learning with practical experience. This ultimately helps young adults who want to assist on their family farms or start out on their own.

Securing access to healthcare

Providing modern healthcare to Madagascar’s rural population is a considerable challenge. The health infrastructure is weak, and many farmers do not trust modern medicine, preferring to use traditional methods or seek help from healers who can’t deal with serious illnesses.

In a country where there are only three hospital beds for every 10,000 people, it is not surprising that many Malagasy use traditional healers and remedies – many have no choice. Health insurance is rare, and facilities are few and far between.

Traditional remedies, however, are not always able to cope with many of the diseases and conditions that people face. Diarrhoea caused by contaminated water and malnutrition caused by a limited diet are both challenges in themselves and contributory factors in other illnesses. Access to birth control is also limited.

Unfamiliarity with modern medicine is also a hurdle. Many people are suspicious of a scientific form of medicine they have never been given an opportunity to understand. Creating a health insurance scheme that is trusted and welcomed by farmers is an important part of strengthening farming communities.

A sustainable future for communities

Improving education and access to healthcare among vanilla farmers are important objectives in themselves – but they are not philanthropy. We believe that these programmes create shared value, for us as well as the communities we work within.

Positive change
Sustainability goes beyond the supply chain

Through programmes like these we hope to transform the vanilla supply chain from one in which farmers are vulnerable to price fluctuations and poor harvests and trapped by poverty, into one in which farmers have a secure livelihood and a higher standard of living, so that they can consistently produce the premium vanilla that is such a vital ingredient for us.

We had a vision of establishing the entire supply chain, from cultivation to extraction, in Madagascar and in the most sustainable way possible. This vision has been realised, but we’re not going to rest on our laurels. We will continue to rely on the experience of the farmers and our employees to further expand our reach, and we will continue our work to improve the living conditions of farmers and the communities they live and work in.

By improving standards and achieving accreditation, we will be able to bring a higher-quality, fully traceable product to our customers – who increasingly demand that their ingredients can be shown to be sustainably sourced, not least because their consumers want the same thing.