The last few years have tested both the patience of vanilla growers and those who consume the product itself. Indeed, the combination of both a drought and cyclones have delivered a huge jolt to the wallets of both parties, with the issue not likely to fade away any time soon.
The reason for this economic disaster is that both of those weather-based issues struck the Southern Africa nation of Madagascar, which happens to produce anywhere from 75 to 85 percent of the world’s vanilla bean crop. The situation mirrors what took place in 2003 and 2004, when prices also surged and led many to use artificial vanilla options, but that issue soon faded away when prices dropped because of a large increase in supply.
Other countries jumped into the vanilla bean growing industry, such as India and Indonesia, when prices took that jump. However, since it takes at least three years to produce any vanilla beans and a three to six-month curing process is involved in harvesting the very best beans, the amount those countries have produced pales in comparison to the continued importance of Madagascar.
The drought of 2015 resulted in a 20 percent decline in the crop, with an early March 2017 cyclone potentially wiping out as much as one-third of Madagascar’s commodity. Also mixed in this problem is greed, which occurs because those growing the crop attempt to shorten the necessary curing process. That compromises the bean’s quality, with the reduced amount of beans resulting from the subsequent rejection thereby resulting in higher prices for all consumers.
Madagascar has been the central growing area for more than two centuries and with their dominance in the market, businesses and consumer may have to consider other flavors or going artificial to stem this tide.