Bourbon-Vanilla from Madagaskar
Vanilla belongs to the orchid family and is the only useful plant within this genus. It only thrives in mixed tropical cultures and needs a tree as a supporting plant on which the vanilla can grow. It originally comes from Mexico and Central America. The first vanilla pods came to Spain through the European conquerors. It became very popular with the French royal family in the 17th century. This prompted the cultivation of vanilla in their overseas colonies - on the Seychelles, the Comoros on La Réunion (formerly Île Bourbon) and on Madagascar.
Cultivation and harvest
With 30,000 hectares, Madagascar is the largest producer of vanilla and accounts for around 70 to 80 percent of world production.
Naturata gets the vanilla from a small farmer's cooperative in Madagascar, more precisely from the Sava region in the northeast of the island. Organic vanilla is grown here on 30 hectares. This is a very time-consuming activity that also requires a sure instinct. Since there are no hummingbirds for pollination in Madagascar, the vanilla blossoms are hand-pollinated with a chopstick. The flowering period extends from December to February. What is special about this is that only a single flower blooms for a few hours per day on an inflorescence. If it is not pollinated during this time, the flower will fall off. About 7 to 8 months after pollination, the color of the pod changes from green to yellow. Now is the time to harvest them. In order to recognize the perfect time it takes a lot of experience and has to be checked daily. Therefore, the harvest time can extend over three months.
After harvesting, the vanilla pod is briefly blanched in a hot water bath and then fermented in boxes. In the morning the pods are laid out in the sun to dry and in the evening they are again stored in boxes to “sweat”. This is a very laborious work process that is repeated over a period of weeks. This creates the typical black-brown color and the fine and complex vanilla aroma. The pods are then dried for two to three months in well-ventilated storage rooms. They are checked and massaged daily to guarantee the best quality and to ensure that they develop their optimal aroma. Once the pods have reached the perfect degree of dryness, they are sorted, bundled and made ready for shipping to Europe by hand.
Naturata sources its organic bourbon vanilla from FML (Fikambanana Magnitra Lavanila), a group of small farmers that works with Floribis. Floribis was founded in 2000 and is one of the most important employers in northern Madagascar. For the socially committed company it was important from the beginning to enter into long-term partnerships with the farmers' groups and to support them not only with technical support but also with social projects. To illustrate these efforts, Floribis has been Fairtrade certified since 2013.
The additional Fairtrade premiums made it possible to implement various joint projects. For example, new classrooms for school children or a medical center were built. The city library is supported and there are literacy and French courses. Numerous other improvements have been made that benefit the farmers and their families directly. They also benefit from long-term partnerships, technical support and guaranteed minimum prices.
© FML for all images