Symrise Researches Optimal Vanilla Cultivation Methods in Madagascar

Symrise generates insights on the best cultivation conditions for vanilla in specifically designed fields in northern Madagascar. The results shall help increase yields and ensure consistent premium quality. As an integral part of Symrise’s work and partnership approach, Symrise will share the expertise gained from the tests with local partner farmers. This shall improve their income and living situation.

For many years, Symrise has worked directly with vanilla farmers in northeastern Madagascar. The aim is to safely source natural high-quality vanilla, providing full traceability of the vanilla beans and their related flavours. Symrise currently works with around 7,000 smallholder farmers in 90 villages. “Thanks to our close cooperation with farmers and our permanent presence, we understand the working and living conditions of local farmers in detail,” says Alain Bourdon, Country Director at Symrise Symrise Madagascar. “We want to sustainably improve their living conditions and consider this an integral part of our approach to supporting farmers and their families. We want them to become more resilient and have already achieved encouraging results with the work we have been doing in the field. Now we have started another chapter, which aims to better understand the vanilla plants our partner farmers work with and the conditions under which the precious plant grows best.” Symrise’s year-round presence on the island and the close collaboration between company experts and local communities is a key success factor in this.

The results of the project will allow Symrise to understand how the yield and quality of vanilla can be further improved. Also, the company wants to deduce how farmers can efficiently apply this knowledge to their vanilla cultivation and thereby improve their standard of living. “We believe in a sustainable value chain from start to finish. That starts with supporting the farmers we work with and their families such that they are able to thrive and produce the best beans. Beans that go through the best processing methods, for the best extracts for the best brands,” says Yannick Leen, Global Taste Competence Director Vanilla at Symrise.

The vanilla fields lie close to the Symrise factory in Benavony. As part of the project, researchers combine different growth environments for vanilla. These cover a wide range of different agroforestry systems. Others incorporate a shady greenhouse area with meticulously controlled parameters like temperature, light and humidity.

What does vanilla need?

At the beginning of the research project in 2018, Symrise first focused on the conditions that allow vanilla seedlings to grow healthily. The employees then looked for the best possible conditions in the soil structure with regard to nutrients, permeability and ventilation, for example.

At the end of last year, the plants completed their first stage of growth, which allowed Symrise to begin their phenotyping – that is, the quantitative analysis and measurement of their appearance. In the next step, they reported the ideal conditions for the growth of the flowers, such as the amount of water applied, temperature regulation and the trimming of plants to stimulate their flowering. For the project, Symrise put together a team of permanent experts to supervise the entire process: agricultural researchers with experience in agroforestry, and who focus on the rainforest, assisted and are assisting with their expertise.

Sharing this knowledge with the local small-scale farmers will lead to the increased yield of vanilla, which is coveted all over the world,  will also make an important contribution toward sustaining their livelihood. This takes place in conjunction with the sustainability objectives of the United Nations. Of these, Symrise places particular importance on number 17 – “Partnerships to achieve goals.” The vanilla cultivation project is a good example of this.

Symrise is one of the most important suppliers of vanilla worldwide. The company has been active in Madagascar, where 80 percent of the world’s vanilla is grown, since 2005. “Our vanilla activities there are the best proof that commercial success and sustainability go hand in hand,” says Heinrich Schaper, President of the Flavor division at Symrise.