A total of 841 farmers in Madagascar were trained by highly skilled volunteers under National Cooperative Business Association CLUSA’s Farmer-to-Farmer: Addressing Vanilla through Cooperative Enterprise. The project was a one year small grant with Volunteers for Economic Growth Alliance (VEGA)’s Special Program Support Project (SPSP). Volunteers donated a total of 187 days to help smallholder vanilla farmers, and by the end of the project two new cooperatives were established and operational.
Vanilla is one of the most expensive spices in the world, and 80% of the world’s vanilla comes from Madagascar. Due to this high demand, Malagasy farmers face stiff competition that leads to vanilla theft and predatory pricing by intermediary buyers. Some farmers have had to resort to sleeping in their fields to protect their vanilla during the buying season. Avotra and Mirary Soa, the newly established market-oriented cooperatives, will allow the farmers to bargain directly with exporters, participate in trainings, create vigilance groups and share their experiences with one another.
Volunteer experts were instrumental in helping to create two strong, self-managed and financially independent cooperatives, bringing expertise in cooperative development, financial management, and Madagascar’s vanilla industry.
Seasoned Peace Corps volunteer, Matthew Amato, focused on building Avotra’s leadership capacity to manage the co-op’s operations, track vanilla sales and production and create a membership dues structure to finance their activities. This was successfully achieved through financial management trainings and bookkeeping exercises. Adam Schwartz, a first time Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer, led in-depth leadership trainings to show board members how to train other farmers and helped Mirary Soa establish committees for financial management, quality improvement and livelihood improvement.
A critical factor that led to the project’s success was the public-private partnership between NCBA CLUSA, Ramanandraibe Export (RamaEx) and McCormick & Company. These partners provided vital technical and financial support. McCormick invested $15,000 into the Avotra Cooperative that will provide the members with advances during the lean season when there is an increased level of food insecurity. This allows farmers to avoid making “flower contracts,” which consists of exchanging rice or cash for a fixed price on a decided amount of vanilla that is usually well below market price.
As Matthew Amato explained, “There’s a saying here in Madagascar that says ‘iraiky iraiky faskia, fa miaraka atsika vato.’ It means one by one we’re sand but with each other we’re a stone. I often rely on this saying when I’m doing my trainings because this is the idea of a cooperative."
Written by Anjali Upadhyay, photos by NCBA-CLUSA volunteers.