A Flavorful Partnership
With support from USAID and McCormick, Malagasy vanilla farmers form cooperatives and harvest new opportunities
Rich vanilla ice cream. Spiced pumpkin pie. Cupcakes, birthday cake, chocolate chip cookies. These iconic treats all require a key ingredient: vanilla. As a world leader in spice and flavor, McCormick & Company has spent 130 years finding the best sources for its products, including vanilla.
Madagascar has long been the world’s top vanilla source, producing about 40 percent of global supply in 2019. An island nation off the southeast coast of Africa, Madagascar boasts exceptionally rich biodiversity and is home to many unique plant and animal species; more than 80 percent of its species are found nowhere else on Earth.
Malagasy communities rely heavily on this biodiversity, particularly for food and jobs. Malagasy farmer Razafimahefa Methodien or “Razafy” has seen firsthand the consequences of unsustainable forest use.
“I have always been fascinated by the forest and the water that comes from it. The forest gives us water. Water gives us life,” Razafy says. “But life is not easy. People cut trees and burn the forest for agriculture.”
As communities clear new cropland to make ends meet, the forests shrink, jeopardizing water sources and increasing their vulnerability to climate change.
Faced with these challenges, farmers like Razafy and organizations like USAID and McCormick recognized the same fundamental idea: Vanilla generates a lot of income, and the vanilla orchid plants, which grow up the trunks of trees, need the forest for humidity and shade.
These same forests also play a critical role in addressing the impacts of climate change. And so sustainably grown vanilla has the potential to protect forests and their ability to mitigate climate change, while providing the farmers with much needed income.
“One component of McCormick’s Purpose-Led Performance goals is building resilience in the farming communities in our supply chains,” said Michael Okoroafor, vice president of global sustainability and packaging innovation at McCormick. “We support sustainable practices with the farmers we source from.”
In 2017, the company made a commitment to 100 percent sustainably source its five iconic products — vanilla, cinnamon, black pepper, red pepper, and oregano — by 2025. By buying directly from farmers, the company is increasing its supply chain efficiency while helping farmers access better prices and services.
For more than 30 years, McCormick has partnered with USAID to combine development and business goals, simultaneously fostering human well-being and a stronger global economy. By working together, USAID, McCormick, National Cooperative Business Association CLUSA International, and local partners are promoting the sustainable production of one of the globe’s favorite flavors and developing economic opportunities for Razafy and his community.
“I still have hope that things will change, that the unique forest of Madagascar and its marvelous creatures can be saved, that the people and forest will be in harmony again. The approach is simple: We now grow vanilla sustainably.” — Razafy, farmer
USAID’s expertise has been critical in setting up successful vanilla cooperatives in Madagascar, with five new cooperatives established this past year. Razafy and his fellow farmers named their cooperative “Mahavelona’’ or “Bring Life” in Malagasy. With support from USAID’s Mikajy project, they started to sell vanilla through the cooperative and are now directly linked to buyers like McCormick.
“By working with cooperatives, you eliminate the middleman. Farmers get a lot more,” Okoroafor explains. “USAID has agriculture expertise that reinforces our own agronomic practices and sustainability efforts. Combined, it has a multiplier effect. Partnering with USAID has amplified positive outcomes in these farming communities.”
USAID also collaborated with McCormick and its Madagascar-based supplier to help the cooperatives meet the standards for Rainforest Alliance certification. This global certification adds credibility, requiring compliance with standards related to biodiversity conservation, responsible land management, and human rights. As of February 2020, 1,791 cooperative members had received USAID training and attained this valuable certification. McCormick is also in the process of implementing its own third-party verified sustainability certification, Grown for Good, which will go beyond the industry standard to incorporate elements around improving farmer livelihoods and promoting women’s empowerment.
Buoyed by USAID-funded training and new connections directly to buyers, the first cycle of certified vanilla yielded nearly $900,000 in sales and $261,000 of private sector investment from partners like McCormick.
Okorafor sees the increased and reliable income as a priority goal:
“We want to ensure that every farmer can do well so their children would like to come back and continue in their profession. This ultimately creates sustainability in the farming communities, in partner countries, and stability in the United States.”
With the sustainable income generated from the vanilla cooperatives, Razafy has begun to see positive changes for his community and the forests. Cooperative members are putting less pressure on the forests, and with the Rainforest Alliance certification, Razafy’s own Mahavelona cooperative is receiving a premium price from international buyers. “We demonstrated that we are good stewards of the forest,” he says. “We now have better incomes and a better quality of life.”
About the Author
Tiffany Gibert is a communications specialist for Environmental Incentives, supporting USAID’s Sharing Environment and Energy Knowledge and Measuring Impact II activities.