Bitter plight of the vanilla trade children

From The Sunday Times

March 14, 2010

Bitter plight of the vanilla trade children

Dan McDougall in the Vanilla Coast, Madagascar

 The pods used in ice cream made by some of the world’s best-known brands is produced with the help of children working on plantations in remote regions of Madagascar

NOARY’S fingers are stained a thin, luminous yellow by the sweetest spice of all. Close to exhaustion, his tiny body is pouring with tropical sweat.

At eight years old, he has been tending the vanilla orchids since before first light after walking to work, barefoot and in darkness, alongside his brother, Ando, just a year older.

Here, in the remote Sava region of Madagascar, tens of thousands of children are being forced into the trade in black vanilla pods that sell for up to £4 each in British supermarkets.

Such is the dire state of the small farms in northern Madagascar, the vanilla capital of the world, that children are increasingly involved in production of the pods, a key ingredient of some of the world’s most famous ice cream brands.

Vanilla from the island, off the southeast coast of Africa, flavours everything from Magnum and Ben & Jerry’s to Marks & Spencer desserts and numerous items on the shelves of supermarkets.

In an impoverished settlement near Sambava, the district capital on the Vanilla Coast of northeastern Madagascar, small growers sell their pods to the Société Vanille de Sambava, a consortium that supplies big exporters through auctions held twice a year.

“We work for six to seven hours a day from dawn,” Noary said at his tiny family plantation in Anjombalava, 12 miles to the south of the city.… Read the rest