Vanilla is one of the world’s favourite spices and it would be hard to comprehend life without vanilla. Sadly, the sweet innocence of the simple vanilla bean belies the dark underbelly of global vanilla production. The good news is today, more and more businesses and consumers are committed to responsible vanilla sourcing.
After saffron, vanilla is the most expensive ingredient in the world, largely due to the fact that the production process is very labor intensive. The global demand for vanilla far exceeds its production capacity and so, among other reasons, prices gradually increase. There is little that technology can do to help improve production capacity because vanilla beans are still hand pollinated and manually harvested.
Despite how lucrative the vanilla industry is, the countries that grow and export vanilla are still some of the poorest in the world. For many years, the booming vanilla trade has only benefitted the exporters. Without intervention by sustainable vanilla initiatives, vanilla farmers will continue to endure miserable conditions which include human rights abuses, money laundering, robbery and violence.
Fortunately, we live in a more transparent world and have greater insight into what is happening across the spectrum of ‘plot to plate’ in the vanilla industry. As vanilla-loving people, we have a responsibility to be mindful of where our vanilla beans come from and what we can do to support sustainable vanilla initiatives.