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Voice of Vanilla is an observational documentary with the feel of a dramatic narrative. It follows the life and labors of several Malagasy women through their journeys of vanilla cultivation; walking deep into the jungle and experiencing the day-to-day chores of raising children, growing crops, and defending their livelihoods. While observing the rhythms and textures of life in the rainforests of Madagascar, Voice of Vanilla weaves a tale of struggle, persistence, and change. This is a film that connects people across great distances through the shared experiences of humanity, and builds empathy for the many challenges women farmers are facing. This film will provide a unique view into the experiences of the vanilla farmers and the culture of Madagascar.

Women perform much of the farming in developing countries, in addition to taking care of their families. Despite the vital roles they play, women are often neglected both in the media and in policymaking. Giving these women a voice is critical to addressing their needs, increasing conservation and sustainability, and ensuring food security. The rights of women and girls in rural areas is recognized by the UN as an important issue, however, their stories are woefully underrepresented in the media. It is critically important to share their stories with the world, and gain a better understanding of the challenges these women face.

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.