One island grows about 80% of the world’s vanilla supply and that makes vanilla even more valuable than silver. When vanilla prices go up, you suddenly know that Madagascar is having a bad time. Whenever they get hit by some cyclones and storms together with a drought year, suddenly the price of vanilla can go up. And that is because Madagascar is where 80% of the world’s vanilla supply comes from.
When vanilla farmers in Madagascar are unable to harvest their crop then it disrupts the whole chain of supply. Massive multinational companies can no longer get their flavoring into fudge or vanilla ice cream.
It really is an interest storing when you look into how one island completely dominated the vanilla trade, in fact, because of this it has made plain vanilla more costly than one kilogram of silver. What makes it even more interesting is when you learn vanilla is not even native to Madagascar, the main source is from the Vanilla orchid and that plant is actually native to Mexico.
But it was unable to grow anywhere in Europe as the main pollinator is the Melipona bee who only lives in Mexico. Vanilla was in desperate demand though, everyone wanted its subtle taste, so Europeans attempted to grow it everywhere. Finally, a breakthrough happened on the island of Reunion in 1841: hand pollination. Madagascar being a bigger island was able to implement the technique and start mass production.
And they have stayed at the top of the game ever since, one of the only places where laborious hand pollination is actually cost-effective. Countries like India have tried to get into the vanilla growing industry but the volatile international price keeps farmers away from the crop. Sometimes ice cream parlors in Madagascar are losing money with every scoop.
But with the demand for natural flavors returning and society starting to shun artificial flavorings, the vanilla crop is ready for another boom with Madagascar prone to play a big part in this.