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Multi-partnership to support vanilla farming communities in Madagascar

Almost 80% of the world’s vanilla supply comes from Madagascar and is grown by around 80,000 smallholder farmers.

Vanilla is an important ingredient for making our much-loved ice creams taste so good, and we have expanded our enhancing livelihoods programme to take our experience and learnings to the next level.

Increasing inclusion and prosperity

Together with our supplier Symrise and Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, we have joined forces with Save the Children to increase the scale and impact of the programme by engaging more people in these communities, notably young people and children, and the most vulnerable households. The programme will provide direct support to farmers, as well as the wider community, to improve their livelihoods, build more inclusive communities, and provide better opportunities for their children.

Over the next three years, the programme will aim to address some of the complex social and economic issues that trap people working in the vanilla supply chain and their families in a cycle of poverty from generation to generation.

“We are delighted to see this programme continue and to now have Save the Children on board,” says Dhaval Buch, Unilever’s Chief Procurement Officer. “We have seen some strong results in the last three years of the programme, but there is more to be done. Using the strength and expertise of each partner is essential if we are to achieve the level of transformative change that is necessary across the industry.”

Extending our reach and impact

A number of UN Sustainable Development Goals will be supported through this work, notably Goal 17 which encourages global partnerships for sustainable development. The programme will bring together expertise from each lead partner as well as additional local NGOs. Over the next three years, we aim to reach 50,000 people in 10,000 households, across 70 villages in the Sava region through, for example:

  • Strengthening the outcomes of the previous phase of the programme by further improving resilience to income shocks. This includes working to support more farmers to diversify their business beyond vanilla and develop entrepreneurial skills
  • Providing access to fair financial services to help ensure households have stable incomes to meet their basic needs, as well as access to a safety net to fall back on in times of need, such as during the ‘lean’ season – a period when families do not have enough income and need help to buy food or cover unexpected costs
  • Extending financial education, healthcare insurance subsidies, and credit and savings options
  • Providing tailored financial support for vulnerable households so they can invest in assets, such as livestock, from which they can generate additional income
  • Raising awareness of the importance of good health, nutrition, hygiene for children in particular, as well as positive parenting behaviours
  • Strengthening and expanding the existing network of rural colleges for adolescents, providing vocational training opportunities for the next generation of vanilla farmers
  • Supporting young people through access to education services, such as numeracy and literacy ‘catch up’ classes for those who have missed out on school, as well as providing support to help them plan for the future through youth committees.
  • The programme will facilitate research to understand how the vanilla industry affects children’s lives. The findings will be used to engage with the wider vanilla industry to support improved market practices.

Results so far are encouraging

The initial programme – launched in 2013 – aimed to help vanilla farmers improve farming practices so they could build more stable businesses and secure regular income, enabling them to support themselves and their families. The results have been encouraging, and the programme has:

  • Trained nearly 3,000 farmers to increase their productivity and diversity of crops. Through crop diversification, farmers can improve their food self-sufficiency and make money from other crops/livestock during the lean season – this has reduced from five to three months on average for the majority of farmers
  • Established three new rural colleges
  • Educated 160 young people – aged between 15 and 23 – on how to improve their farming practices, finance skills, literacy and numeracy, of whom 38% of pupils are girls
  • Trained over 200 primary school teachers to improve the quality of education and teach children about the relationship between farming and the environment from an early age
  • Supported the parents association (FRAM) to assist 77 primary schools with financial assistance to cover a proportion of children’s school fees and teachers’ salaries, as well as supporting urgent refurbishment and rebuilding project in villages with the greatest needs.
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