Devastation in Madagascar

It seems like it’s been quite a journey already, but our work is just getting started. In the past few months Madagascar has been hit by 5 major storms – Cyclone Ana, Cyclone Batsirai, Cyclone Enmati, Tropical storm Dumako, and Cyclone Gombe. This unprecedented series of storms have brought widespread destruction to the island. Thousands of families have lost their homes, fields, cattle, and food stock. Lack of clean water is causing the spread of diseases, including covid. 

You may be surprised to hear this, given the lack of coverage in the media. While we have witnessed over the past few years just how closely we are all connected around the world, there are still corners of the globe that are being forgotten. This lack of awareness and understanding is a threat to us all.  Our director, Gaelle Borgia, has already been reporting on the situation.

We will continue to share Gaelle’s news reports. Meanwhile it is critical to get our team out to the field to document the experiences of the vanilla farmers. You can help us by making a tax deductible donation, thanks to our fiscal sponsor, From the Heart Productions.

Make checks payable to From the Heart Productions and indicate “Voice of Vanilla” on the memo line. Mail to: 

​​From The Heart Productions
1455 Mandalay Beach Road
Oxnard, California 93035-2845

Director, Gaelle Borgia, under attack

For the past 3 months Gaelle Borgia, director of Voice of Vanilla, has been reporting on the devastating famine in the south of Madagascar. Reporting on such terrible conditions is difficult enough, but now she is dealing with a smear campaign and cyber-harassment from the government of Madagascar.

Gaelle showed video of people forced to eat cow leather meant for making shoes. The governor of the region, along with a national television reporter made attempts to discredit her by claiming that the people in her video said she paid them to eat the leather. Gaelle posted another video in which those same people said they were paid and threatened to make the statements against her.

Thankfully Gaelle is being supported by Reporters Without Borders, which has issued a statement condemning the smear campaign. No doubt, Gaelle’s credibility as a Pulitzer-prize winning reporter makes her especially threatening to the status quo.

Read more: Smear campaign targets prize-winning reporter in Madagascar

Vanilla from plastic waste?!?!

Scientists have developed a way to convert plastic waste into vanillin. Vanillin is the main chemical component of vanilla flavoring, but real vanilla extract has over 2,000 chemical compounds. Vanillin is not only used in the food industry, but also in pharmaceuticals, fragrances, cosmetics, and cleaning products. Vanillin is in higher demand than natural vanilla production can provide, so alternate sources are necessary. 

On one level, this is a great scientific accomplishment. Hey, we’ve found something useful to do with all this plastic waste that’s piling up everywhere! But like the announcement of other products made from plastic waste – shoes, sunglasses, Jenga blocks –  it feels a little hollow. Umm…yay? What will happen to those things at the end of their life span? They’ll be plastic waste again, because this stuff literally never goes away. 

In 2014 I participated in the Ocean Cleanup Megaexpedition. I sailed from Hawaii to San Francisco on a tiny boat with 5 other people to collect plastic from the Giant Pacific Garbage Patch. The founder of The Ocean Cleanup, Boyan Slat, had developed a passive system for removing plastic floating on the surface of the ocean. The system has been deployed, and is successfully removing plastic from oceans and rivers. But this doesn’t stop the constant flow of more plastic into the environment.

Every time you use a plastic water bottle, or purchase soap in a plastic bottle, or some other product with unnecessary plastic, you are making a decision to contribute more plastic to the environment. There are companies that make money from manufacturing and selling plastic. Those companies have development teams and sales agents constantly coming up with new ways of selling plastic. Remember when some liquid soaps came out with microbeads to exfoliate your skin (something normally accomplished with natural products)? The microbeads enter the water, where they’re eaten by fish and move up the food chain, compounding the impact of toxic chemicals. (Watch the awesome documentary The Story of Plastic on Amazon Prime)

We cannot passively move through life as though the things we do don’t matter. We are making our bed, and we will have to sleep in it. I write this not to start a charge to ban using plastics to make vanilla, but rather to encourage us all to think more about our impact on the earth. I am also not suggesting that you have to drastically change your life tomorrow. But I do think we can try to be a little better every day. Small changes over time are better than no change at all. In 50 years will we be consuming real vanilla, or will we be consuming vanilla derived from plastic waste? What other consequences will we face in a world drowning in plastic?

Merci Beaucoup

We are incredibly grateful to everyone who helped us reach our crowdfunding goal, and proud to announce that we’ve been awarded 2 grants: the Female Filmmaker Grant from Women in Film and Media Colorado and the Colorado Film and Video Association, as well as the Energize Colorado Grant. This money will fund our most critical stage of filming: capturing the opening of the vanilla market, and its impact on farmers.

We are looking forward to sharing some of the footage we capture with you in the fall. Thank you for joining us on this journey!

Meet our Director/Co-Producer Gaelle Borgia

Gaelle Borgia is a Pulitzer prize-winning Malagasy/French journalist. She has worked as a journalist in Madagascar for 10 years, reporting for major media like France 24, BBC, and TV5Monde. Gaelle has strong ties to vanilla, her father and grandmother both hailing from the vanilla capital, Sambava.

Watch the virtual conference

If you missed our virtual conference, Madagascar + Global Issues: An Armchair Exploration, fear not! You can replay the video here.

Our next event will be a live Malagasy music concert, tentatively scheduled for August 31st. Save the date, and sign up for our email list to make sure you don’t miss it.

I am so grateful to all of our amazing presenters for educating and inspiring us.