Growing cocoa could benefit Madagascar vanilla farmers

by Jeff Gelski
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Madagascar cocoa beans
Growing cocoa, which can be harvested throughout the year, could help the vanilla farmers reduce their dependency on the vanilla market.

ZURICH, SWITZERLAND, and PARIS — A new project seeks to diversify crops and stabilize revenues of vanilla farmers in Madagascar by introducing cocoa farming. Zurich-based Barry Callebaut, a producer of chocolate and cocoa, and Paris-based Prova, a manufacturer of vanilla extracts and flavors, joined forces to launch the project.

Madagascar, with 80,000 producers, is the largest producer of vanilla globally. The majority of the farmers in Malaysia are smallholders. They harvest and sell vanilla from July to December, leaving an income gap of at least five months.

Growing cocoa, which can be harvested throughout the year, could help the vanilla farmers reduce their dependency on the vanilla market. The project will run over the next five years. First results of the cocoa production are expected after three years.

“The cocoa and vanilla synergy is an ancient love story that dates back to the Aztecs (in Mexico), thousands of years ago,” said Alessandra Ognibene-Lerouvillois, chief sustainability officer at Prova. “Witnessing this marriage in the field, helping farmers to improve their livelihoods is a big achievement. We are excited to embark on this journey with Barry Callebaut. Together, we will initiate the cultivation of cocoa. Our objective is to enable the planters to become stakeholders in their own development, take ownership of these projects and ensure their long-term sustainability. All our efforts are working towards this goal.”

Madagascar vanilla pods
Madagascar, with 80,000 producers, is the largest producer of vanilla globally.

Prova supplies vanilla to Barry Callebaut.

“We are very happy to partner with Prova on this exceptional project,” said Oliver von Hagen, sustainability manager global sourcing at Barry Callebaut. “Vanilla is a key ingredient for us when making chocolate. This project will support farmers in being prepared for a less favorable future vanilla market. It also helps us as a company, securing a significant amount of our vanilla needs from a sustainable source.”

IDH, the Sustainable Trade Initiative, will support the project with professional consulting services and financing. The IDH, based in Utrecht, The Netherlands, seeks to accelerate sustainable trade by building coalitions of multinationals, civil society organizations, governments and other stakeholders.

Additional services in the Madagascar project will seek to increase levels of vanilla curing at the farm level and support the adoption of Good Agricultural Practices (GAP). The project will focus on vanilla farms in the district of Bemanevika in the SAVA region (formed by the district of Sambava, Antalaha, Vohemar and Andapa). Barry Callebaut and Prova will fund and support local communities through social, health and education programs.

The International Cocoa Organization, London, certifies cocoa grown in Madagascar as “Fine or Flavor Cocoa.” The flavor profiles interest users of premium cocoa. 
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