Vanilla ice cream faces an uncertain future © Shutterstock
Vanilla ice cream faces an uncertain future © Shutterstock

Commodities: vanilla harvest under threat

A series of natural crises have hit Madagascar’s vanilla crop, leading to soaring global prices and an impact on quality

Savour your vanilla ice cream this summer, for the future of one of the world’s most familiar tastes is starting to look bleak. The spice has been hit hard by bad weather, failing crops and crime, resulting in soaring prices and possible global shortages.

More than three-quarters of the world’s vanilla crops are located on Madagascar. However, after a tropical cyclone in March, around 30% of the vines were destroyed – all this on top of a drought and previous shortages. It can take up to four years for a new vine to grow.

This year’s harvest is under way and the uncertainty about its yield has driven prices from $60 a kilogram in 2014 to a projected price of $400 to $450, according to Nielsen-Massey. Frustratingly, some farmers looking to cash in on the high prices have started picking green pods – which sell for $80 per kilogram – a practice the government has now banned because it affects the quality of the product. Canadian vanilla distributor Aust & Hachmann said: “How can we advise anybody to buy historically poor-quality vanilla at 25 times the price they paid for far better quality less than five years ago?”

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