Vanilla farming becoming popular, so let us move on...

11Nov 2019
Editor
The Guardian
Vanilla farming becoming popular, so let us move on...

Vanilla is the only edible fruit of the orchid family, the largest family of flowering plants in the world. There are over 150 varieties of vanilla plants. Just like grapes that make wine, no two vanilla beans are the same in flavour, aroma, or colour. Vanilla is still the most favourite ice cream-

-flavour in the US.

Vanilla is a flavouring derived from orchids of the genus vanilla, primarily from the Mexican species, flat-leaved vanilla.  The word vanilla, derived from vainilla, the diminutive of the Spanish word vaina (vaina itself meaning a sheath or a pod), is translated simply as  little pod .  Pre-Columbian Mesoamerican people cultivated the vine of the vanilla orchid. Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés is credited with introducing both vanilla and chocolate to Europe in the 1520s.  

Pollination is required to get the vanilla fruit from which the flavouring is derived. In 1837, Belgian botanist Charles François Antoine Morren discovered this fact and pioneered a method of artificially pollinating the plant.  The method proved financially unworkable and was not deployed commercially.  In 1841, Edmond Albius, a slave who lived on the French island of Réunion in the Indian Ocean, discovered at the age of 12 that the plant could be hand-pollinated. Hand-pollination allowed global cultivation of the plant. 

Three major species of vanilla currently are grown globally, all of which derive from a species originally found in Mesoamerica, including parts of modern-day Mexico.  They are V. planifolia (syn. V. fragrans), grown on Madagascar, Réunion, and other tropical areas along the Indian Ocean; V. tahitensis, grown in the South Pacific; and V. pompona, found in the West Indies, Central America, and South America.  The majority of the world's vanilla is the V. planifolia species, more commonly known as Bourbon vanilla (after the former name of Réunion, Île Bourbon) or Madagascar vanilla, which is produced in Madagascar and neighbouring islands in the southwestern Indian Ocean, and in Indonesia. Combined, Madagascar and Indonesia produce two-thirds of the world's supply of vanilla.

Vanilla is the second-most expensive spice after saffron  because growing the vanilla seed pods is labour-intensive.  Despite the expense, vanilla is highly valued for its flavour.  As a result, vanilla is widely used in both commercial and domestic baking, perfume manufacture, and aromatherapy.

Vanilla stakeholders from around the world  converged in Moshi, Kilimanjaro region  to ponder on how to increase production and quality of one of the most lucrative spices.

A statement released recently by Nestlé—one of the organisers of the three-day symposium - said the stakeholders   also visited some vanilla farmers in the region to find out their challenges and figure out the kind of support they need.

“The meeting will focus on the future of vanilla and vanillin. Given the growing importance of Tanzania and neighbouring countries in the vanilla industry, we felt it is the right time to hold a vanilla meeting in the region,” the statement noted.

Dried vanilla beans which are used as spice in food, beverages and fragrances are sold at 10,000/- to 15,000/- per kilogramme, making it the darling of farmers in regions whose weather favours its cultivation such as Kilimanjaro, Kagera and Morogoro.

“We are committed to supporting vanilla farmers and producers in Tanzania and the neighbouring countries,” the milk and confectionary giant emphasised.

The meeting also addressed, among others, the instability of supply of cured vanilla beans as well as the decrease of quality of the beans.

The challenges had prompted end users to formulate new flavours containing vanillin from natural sources and other ingredients, the statement noted.

“The industry, however, wants to continue the use of properly cured and reasonably priced vanilla beans,” it said.

Companies such as the Arusha-based Natural Extractive Industries (NEI) have been buying vanilla beans and processing them for export. NEI which is among the organizers of the conference was among winners of the Creating Shared Value (CSV) Prize in 2016 for its vanilla from Kilimanjaro Region.

Statistics show that as of 2016, the world's largest vanilla-producing country was Madagascar with an output of 2,926 tonnes followed by Indonesia at 2,304 tonnes. The two countries were far above the 885 tonnes from China and the 513 tonnes from Mexico.

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