Sustainable Vanilla

Empowering people from pod to production

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.

How vanilla is grown and harvested

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.

Building from the ground up

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. We are also focused on ensuring that children across these villages can stay in school. We are pleased to note the continuing increase in the level of educational attainment at schools participating in the programme, allowing children to progress beyond primary level. In 2019, pass rates for final exams rose to 60% for the additional 15 schools incorporated in 2018. This is up from a pass rate of 17% in 2017.

The pillars of Kerry’s Sustainability Programme in Maroambihy include programmes in:
  • farmer income & livelihood
  • women empowerment
  • education