How did it happen that on one single island (though large ) 80% of all vanilla is collected in the world, and why does this spice cost five times more than silver?
The price of vanilla has been growing for six years; in 2012, the gram could be bought for only 20 cents, and now it is necessary to lay out already 2.5 dollars – for comparison, a gram of silver of 999 tests costs only 50 cents. Last week, the price for vanilla jumped a little more than a few dollars an ounce. The climate is to blame: in recent years in Madagascar, where 80% of all vanilla is grown in the world, droughts and hurricanes have fallen, and the supply has fallen sharply.
Vanilla refers to the fruits of several species of lianas of the genus Vanílla. Smelly boxes (usually called pods, but this is incorrect from the point of view of botanical classification) have always been in price – especially when they had to be carried from the New World. Europeans borrowed a combination of vanilla with chocolate from the Aztecs, added a combination with milk and finally fell in love with Mexican spice. But in the European gardens vanilla did not grow: its main pollinators, bees-melipones, remained in Mexico.
In 1841, twelve-year-old Edmond Albius, a slave on a vanilla plantation in one of the French colonies, guessed pollinating a vanilla flower by hand; he poked his fingers and a stick into the stamens, then into the pestle, and got a harvest. Production of vanilla outside the range of melipon was possible, but manual pollination put forward a new requirement. To grow vanilla was economically viable, people literally working like bees on vanilla plantations should agree to a very low pay. Low labor costs and a suitable climate made the island of Madagascar an ideal place for vanilla production. In other warm and poor countries – for example, in India – farmers preferred vanilla to other crops, with more stable export prices, and Madagascar is now almost monopoly.
World production concentrated on Madagascar and several other islands; even in the homeland of vanilla, in Mexico, it has ceased to be a popular agricultural crop – especially because of the growing popularity of artificial flavors. But in recent years, the demand for natural products has increased again, and with it the price of vanilla boxes. Madagascar try to take advantage of it, but they are prevented by global warming with its unpredictable weather vagaries.