Although many take vanilla for granted, this difficult and dangerous crop is a singular opportunity to escape poverty for farmers in Madagascar. Will the women responsible for vanilla cultivation be able to weather the storms that threaten its very existence?

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Voice of Vanilla is a feature documentary about women vanilla farmers in Madagascar, the challenges they face with devastating poverty, all the while struggling at the bottom of the ladder in regards to resources. These women face exploitation from middlemen to corporations, harrowing climate change storm-surges,  unprecedented novel diseases and finally, theft. Unimaginable obstacles aside, vanilla offers a rare lifeline out of poverty. This film examines the factors that determine whether vanilla is a blessing or a curse, and what we can do globally to make sure that real Madagascar vanilla is available for future generations.

Why vanilla?

Vanilla is an important and valuable product, so much so that recent prices have been higher than the cost of silver. We use it in our food and drinks, cosmetics, perfumes, and more. However, the majority of it is grown in a country where there are no natural pollinators, and where climate change and poverty threaten its existence. Vanilla links one of the poorest countries in the world, Madagascar, to the wealthiest countries. In Madagascar, it is a life line out of poverty, but one that comes at a high cost. To reduce the likelihood of theft, crops must be grown deep in the rainforest. In order to pollinate the flowers on the one day per year that they bloom, the women who painstakingly pollinate each orchid by hand must be hyper vigilant to not miss this small window of opportunity. However, as the earth warms, the seasons become more and more unpredictable. Once the beans begin to reach maturity, each one must be marked with pin pricks so they can be identified if stolen, and the farmers sleep in the forest to protect their crops from thieves around the clock. Cyclone season brings added stress as storms become stronger and more frequent. If they can make it through all of these challenges, they must then barter for a fair price.