A combination of factors is leading De Monchy Natural Products to think that the quality of Vanilla beans this upcoming 2022 season is at risk.
Indeed, it all started with a late blossoming of the vanilla plants in late 2021 due to a period of intense heat and no rain. We usually expect the hand pollination to conclude at the end of December, however our team on the ground in Madagascar has observed that farmers were still pollinating well into February 2022 this season.
This leaves little time for the beans to mature properly before the traditional opening date of the markets, usually expected mid-July.
Green campaign: Start Date
Deciding an early or late opening of the Green Campaign is a hotly debated topic with a significant impact on quality and on all players involved. Naturally, this has led to a tug-of-war between various stakeholders.
On one side, the farmers are eager to start selling the green beans as soon as possible, especially with the economic pressure from the global pandemic, the impact of the war in Ukraine on food prices and the global logistic crisis. Seeking to open the season as early as the 20th of June 2022, this group was hoping that the government officials would hear their plea in these dire economic conditions.
On the other side, exporters have been hoping for the support of the government to give enough time for the beans to mature naturally, even if it means delaying the season.
The Regional Committee for the Observation of Flowering, which is part of the Ministry of Agriculture, however, recommended starting the new season on the 14th of July.
Our position is that neither option is ideal, especially for the farming community; an early opening of the campaign would mean a crop of immature beans with lower vanillin content whereas a late launch could encourage some unofficial market deals between a subset of desperate farmers and opportunistic collectors.
In the end, ministers convened on Wednesday 11th of May to discuss this highly sensitive issue and have come to the decision that the 2022 Green Campaign in Madagascar will start in the Sava region, which is the main production region in Madagascar, on the 7th of July 2022 (download the official government annoucement here).
The impact of weather has also put pressure on expected crop outputs for this season. However, it is important to remember that there have been some plot extensions following the high vanilla prices of 2018 which are now becoming ready for harvesting. These 2 opposing factors mean that 2022 will probably see very similar outputs to last year.
Vanilla industry regulation efforts
The Malagasy government continues to intervene in an effort to regulate the Vanilla industry on the island.
Following last year, it appears that the USD 250 minimum exporting price is set to stay in place for this 2022 season.
Additionally, the government has announced they are planning to launch a new program aimed at tackling the issue of traceability. A new digital card will soon become mandatory for all vanilla farmers, in order to track all harvested and sold vanilla beans, in order to help fight theft and black market operations. With a compulsory application fee and a lengthy online questionnaire, the program could face some serious implementation challenges among a community which is, unfortunately, still struggling with literacy and facing renewed economic pressure.
In the same spirit, the USPV – Unité Spéciale pour la Protection de la Vanille (i.e. Vanilla Protection Special Unit) has been created in Sambava to crack down on vanilla theft. This unit composed of elements from the Justice, Gendarmerie, National Police, Army and Ministry of Commerce will strengthen sanctions against violators.
While cases have significantly declined over the last few years, thanks to the actions of the authorities, vanilla theft remains a threat to the industry. With over 20% of criminals in Antahala prison incarcerated for crimes related to vanilla, we welcome these renewed efforts to secure this crucial sector for the Malagasy economy.
The 2022 Green Campaign is set to start amid a challenging landscape. With a late blooming and pollination time, we do expect an overall lower quality crop for 2022. A minimum export price combined with a lack of volume growth and strong retail demand for gourmet beans may also push prices higher but it is still too early to tell with certainty.
These conditions may prove to support appetite for other vanilla origins such as Uganda, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea as alternative to the traditional Bourbon Vanilla.