Ecocert, Organic, and Raizing Symrise: How Eco-Audits Spur Monopolies and Competitors Hijack Vanilla


Organic your cup of tea? Consider your real effect on the market by choosing this premium.

This month Ecocert and Bio audits were deployed to verify Fair Trade and Organic practices, child labor standards, and other sometimes-real/sometimes-ornamental badges of big exporters in Madagascar’s vanilla lands.

The ironic issue here, after discussing the whole practice with the NGO’s and company’s who fund and train farmers to obey the standards, is that the entire audit and process is so exorbitantly expensive, easily exceeding $10,000 per audit with the cost of flight tickets, food, and accommodation (wining and dining along with it) that small farmers or coops that are themselves the end producers can never hope to have these badges of added value that help command higher profit for their beans. On top of this, they are the ones who undergo the audits in the first place.

It has become perverted in Madagascar and many other developing nations that the badges of “social responsibility” have been the singular most effective instrument at crushing producer’s hopes of growing business and margin against dug-in larger elite monopolies, with the funds and wherewithal to procure the organic badges at all. The more conventional vanilla is derided or conventional produce in general, and the more organic produce is demanded, the worse the monopoly problem and the lockdown gets. Nobody buys from an illiterate farmer in the middle of nowhere, now matter how responsible his organic and trade practices, over the corporate PR machines of large companies that buy from that farmer in the first place, and diminish the potential pay-for-product, adding in much heftier span their own “organic” premium and perpetuating the belief that this is helping the farmer, who is being locked out of the direct business in the first place.

If one buys a coffee that is organic or rainforest-friendly or fairtrade or whatever, they are generally not aware that their money may boost a farmer’s wage a percent, but that these same farmers are being cut out of business by elite and wealthy monopolies in these countries who have jumped on the organic or fair trade train, to be exclusive club badge holders which they fully know nobody at the source (the farmers themselves) could ever access. These alone benefit from the badge. Even a “fair trade” wage for your crop cannot help you afford a certification audit, if you know how to apply for one at all – which you usually don’t without a college degree or experience in the west.

For instance, a company that does Ecocert or USDA Organic holds a random sample audit with one guy who flies out and randomly inspects a tiny percent of production, his date known well in advance, and then flies back and certifies that company. The farmers who supply that company, even though they were the ones inspected, do not hold that certification and cannot sell their vanilla as “organic” even though it may be perfectly clear that it is. Only the wealthy payer of the audit can sport the badge.

Funny enough, when the large exporters are negotiating with farmer’s coops for the price of green vanilla, tons of espionage and paid planted agents are deployed all over SAVA. If Symrise or the supplier for Haagen-Daaz for example offers 200,000 ariary for harvested vanilla, the plants will relay to their secret employers, competitors, who will secretly poach the producers who would be exclusively contracted to Symrise or the patron, and immediately offer 210,000 ariary.

This month the vanilla price is creeping up north of $300 towards $400 from the source in SAVA, and things are heating up between them and the exporters. There are more agents and hysteria than ever too, and it is not uncommon for word of one visiting buyer to somehow reach 10 different suppliers or producers, making any vanilla collecting trip a very magnetic and overwhelming experience!

The price for black noir grade A vanilla in Madagascar from the main export companies at the moment is $333 to $450 CIF to Europe or USA. They hope to push it north of $500 before this season.

-The MVC Team