Vanilla is a key flavour for Kerry’s business, and we are committed to sustainable vanilla sourcing through promoting a better understanding of sustainable farming methods and providing ongoing support to the communities that produce it.
Vanilla grows as a vine, climbing up an existing tree, pole or other support. It is a crop product grown from September/October to May/June and once harvested is cured for three to six months.
The distinctively flavoured compounds are found in the fruit, which results from the pollination of the flower that must be done by hand within 12 hours of opening. Therefore, growers must inspect their plantations every day for open flowers.
Harvesting vanilla fruits is as labour-intensive as pollinating the blossoms – one flower produces one fruit. Each fruit ripens in its own time, requiring a daily harvest in which each individual pod must be picked by hand at its optimum stage of maturity. Good harvest quality greatly depends on the skill and experience of the growers.
There are several methods for curing vanilla, however all of them consist of four basic steps: killing, sweating, slow-drying and conditioning of the beans. Another important step is grading of vanilla beans according to size, colour, smell and texture – a labour-intensive task that must be continuously repeated until the final lots are ready for export.
Madagascar (especially the fertile SAVA region, in the north east of Madagascar) grows approximately 80% of the world’s vanilla – between 1,500 -2,000 MT of vanilla pods are produced globally each year. In 2012, the population of Madagascar was estimated at just over 22 million, 90% of whom live on less than two dollars a day.
In 2014, Kerry sent a team to Madagascar to gain a better understanding of the market to develop a more robust programme of sustainable sourcing. The large number of intermediaries, traders and exporters in the country's vanilla infrastructure, combined with the complex stages of curing and preparation, mean that the price received by the vanilla farmer is much lower than what it is ultimately sold for on the international market.
As one of the main employers in the area, we offer the services of a team of agronomists to the local farmers. The agronomists liaise between the farmer and his customer and advise on how to improve the quality of the crop and get a higher yield.
Kerry’s suppliers, called Authentic Products, has a mainly female workforce, who are highly trained to grade the vanilla pods. Wages are competitive (10-15% above average), and an additional premium is paid per kilogram of vanilla graded to the correct standards.
Kerry and Authentic Products have set up a project called Tsara Kalitao, which means good quality in Malagasy. Tsara Kalitao is located in the district of Maroambihy, home to approximately 11,000 people spread across 10 villages. More than 90% of the Maroambihy workforce are farmers with an average plot size of 1-1.5 hectares.
Kerry supports the costs of the Authentic Products’ team of agronomists who advise the farmers in Maroambihy. We also cover the cost of all classroom training including growing techniques, pollination, harvesting maturity and quality of beans. This is supported with on-site training including the use of pilot plots to demonstrate plantation maintenance and how to generate yield improvements.
The project trains farmers to produce higher quality vanilla beans and to get higher yields from their crop. This dual approach means they benefit from a substantial increase in income for both themselves and in turn their employees.
The lack of an existing co-operative system in Madagascar meant that we first needed to establish trust – working closely with Authentic Products has been a major step in establishing this. They have been in operation in the area for 10 years and have a close working relationship with the local vanilla farmers, which has helped drive the project forward.
When the project began in April 2014, three associations were created and strict conditions were put in place in order to sign up to the programme. In the first year, 278 farmers sold their freshly harvested vanilla beans to Project Tsara Kalitao – well ahead of the target of 150 farmers. We hope to have 600 farmers on board by 2018.The pillars of Kerry’s Sustainability Programme in Maroambihy include programmes in: