Sunday 9 October 2011

Will Vanilla Vanish

During the year 2000 or so, I had a chance to listen amazing story of vanilla and how it was creating fortune to farmers or adopters. In my visit to one such central nursery, I had eye witnessed the vanilla seedling for the first time.
 The Superintendent of that nursery had given a thorough talk on vanilla cultivation and it economic importance. While I had forgotten all except its economic importance “lakhs rupees is not a matter from the single acre of vanilla cultivation” that’s what I still remember.
In between 2000 to 2011, few years ago vanilla also rocked my native state in north eastern India. But, within a matter of 5 to 6 years on date, there was no news of vanilla cultivation and its economic proliferation.

Vanilla cultivation in India

In India, Kerala the South Indian state and also Nilgiri region of Tamil Nadu could be termed as pioneer in the vanilla cultivation. But, the condition or plight of the cultivators is same or might be same as is evident from the news column of one retired Colonel who used to contribute in “The Week” magazine and I am the avid reader of his column.
Colonel had mentioned his misfortune by taking up the vanilla cultivation investing good sum of hard earned money during the upward trends of vanilla in national and international markets.
In India Vanilla production has been in declining trend due to demand and supply situation in the national and international market. While the main feeder of vanilla is companies associated with ice cream maker and some perfume manufacturer etc but there is slew of demand from such organization or industry too.
According to The Financial Times “Farmers in the south Indian states, especially Kerala, took to vanilla farming after 2000 when prices climbed to record levels mainly due to damage to the crop in Madagascar, the world's largest producer of the commodity, because of hurricanes.
 Vanilla prices soared in 2003-04 to touch Rs 20,000 per kg for cured or processed beans. Later a bumper crop in Madagascar saw Indian prices dropping to less than Rs 600 per kg for processed beans”.

Now,what is vanilla?

Vanillin oil is the product obtained from the dried and cured vanilla bean. The vanillin oil is scented with good flavoring agent derived from the Orchid of genus vanilla (Vanilla planifolia). The compounds found in the vanillin is 4-hydroxy-3-methoxybenzaldehyde which is primarily responsible for the characteristic flavor and smell of vanilla  (wikipedia).
 In addition, there are also several other compounds that is making the natural vanillin a unique product.
This is commonly used in ice-cream for flavoring the ice cream and also aromatizing perfumes and liqueurs. It is also used in culinary and varieties of   sweet dishes, cakes, chocolate, confectionery items and   creams.

Vanilla; Source of origin, distribution and production

Vanilla is native to Mexico however, it is also found in Philippines, Tonga, Turkey, Uganda, Madagaskar, China, Uganda, Indonesia, Comoros, Malawi etc where it is commercially cultivated (Wikipedia).
In the World, Madagascar dominates the market and trade both in terms of production and cultivation and the country is closely followed by Indonesia and Comoros. World production was about 4,500 tons in 2004 and has increased strongly in recent years according to VanillaBiomatrix.

Declining trend of Vanilla in World market

However, there is a declining trend in the world market for natural vanillin oil. It may be due to the slew in production and invasion of synthetic vanilla extracted from lignin a natural polymer found in wood and synthetic vanilla is a byproduct of pulp in papermaking.
However, synthetic vanilla is aggressively competing with the natural vanillin being cheap in price compare to the natural product. VanillaBiomatrix estimates that “The consumption of synthetic vanilla totals 12,000 to 15,000 tons per annum whereas world trade in natural vanilla is only 4,500 tons”.


In my opinion, the reason for declining trend of natural Vanillin could be higher prices and short supply. On the contrary, synthetic vanillin easily available with affordable rates is hugely affecting this on going saga of natural vanillin.
When I was writing this post, I was re-collecting and memorizing the indigo cultivation in India during the period of British which we studied during our school days.
 There were folklore, stories and dramas about the forceful cultivation of indigo in India by the British ruler who intern benefited in the world trade by exporting the indigo produced from the India.
 But there was sudden decline and finally stopped the indigo cultivation in India. Historian says it is not due to the resistance by the Indian farmers to the indigo cultivation but it was due to the discovery of the artificial indigo that had brought this change.
I am worried whether vanilla is trading the same path like Indian indigo or not.

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