Better living conditions through vanilla

Better living conditions for vanilla producers in Madagascar in exchange for premium quality and sustainably grown vanilla – that’s the idea behind the development partnership between Symrise AG, the consumer goods company Unilever and GIZ. Symrise is the world’s fourth biggest producer of flavours and fragrances, and Unilever is one of its major customers and purchases large quantities of vanilla.

Although real Bourbon vanilla from Madagascar generates high prices on the world market, the smallholder families who cultivate this highly sought spice by hand in a painstaking, labour-intensive process are barely able to earn a living from it. If harvests and quality turn out worse in a given year, growers quickly fall into hardship, as vanilla is virtually their sole source of income.

Annual fluctuations in the volume and quality of vanilla have caused repeated problems for the purchaser Symrise, too. Together with Unilever, the company therefore decided to cooperate directly with the smallholders and to join a three-year development partnership within the scope of the programme. In 2016, the partners brought Save the Children on board.

With GIZ’s backing, the partners have been providing support for around 7,000 smallholders and their families in one of the poorest regions in the world since 2014. The aim is to empower approximately 10,000 families to improve their livelihoods and, in return, for the companies to receive premium quality vanilla from sustainable crops.

The development partnership revolves around practice-oriented training delivered on the ground at model farms, the establishment of farmer field schools where people can learn about cultivating vanilla and further training for teaching staff in order to foster environmental awareness in primary schools.

To date, more than 5,000 farmers in 70 villages have learned how to sustainably raise the yield and quality of vanilla, and thus boost their sales earnings. They are also learning to grow other crops that will make them less dependent on vanilla and better able to feed their families in the long term.

In the course of the development partnership, three agricultural colleges have been set-up with more than 180 trainees between them. Moreover, the number of low-yield months has already fallen from five to three. By the end of the project, at least 70 per cent of the smallholders are to have increased their vanilla production by up to 40 per cent per hectare.

‘We are delighted at the comprehensive development programme that we have initiated with our partners Unilever and GIZ. Sustainable added value constitutes the core of our corporate strategy. The increased engagement generated through this partnership gives us an opportunity to create value for everyone.’

Dr Heinz-Jürgen Bertram, Chairman of the Management Board, Symrise AG

Facts | Figures

in 70 villages have been trained in the sustainable cultivation of vanilla, cocoa and cloves.
model farms
are being assisted and supported.
of households
have increased their income by 20%.


The low-yield period has been reduced from 5 to 3 months.


Three agricultural colleges established with capacity for a total of around 180 trainees. 218 teachers in 36 primary schools trained in environmental education.

Social security

structure 6,000 smallholders receive health insurance.

Youth development

36 youth committees with a total of 430 members promote the participation of young people in the communities.