Corporate Social Responsibility or sustainable business practices is something that companies who deal with underdeveloped countries like Madagascar are being encouraged to embrace. Defining sustainability and applying it within any business model, depending on the product involved, is not so easily achieved. In the case of vanilla from Madagascar there are several approaches which could all be considered sustainable with each practice providing its own benefits.
The world’s sustainable development goals are integrated into the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that were established in 2000 following the Millennium Summit of the United Nations. Adopted by the 189 United Nations member states at the time and more than twenty international organizations, these goals were advanced to help achieve the following sustainable development standards by 2015 :
- To eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
- To achieve universal primary education
- To promote gender equality and empower women
- To reduce child mortality
- To improve maternal health
- To combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases
- To ensure environmental sustainability
Although Aust & Hachmann (Canada) sponsors several programs and projects on the ground our primary focus is education. According to the Madagascar Development Fund (MDF) Madagascar is short over 3000 primary schools. Primary education provides the most basic of skills such as reading and writing and basic computer knowledge. We feel that without at least a basic education the people who live in the vanilla communities of Madagascar will never be able to take control of their lives and will always be exposed to the undue influence of foreign entities that, for the most part, have no choice but to put their own economic interests first. Vanilla Farmers and their families, with just a basic primary education (and eventually higher levels of education) will have the tools needed to gain much more control over the vanilla trade on a domestic and international level.
Vanilla is a crop grown by tens of thousands of farmers and their families through the North East of Madagascar. Many of these vanilla communities are extremely remote lacking in the most basic services which included proper schools and educators at the primary level. A proper well equipped primary school in a rural area can have a massive impact on the surrounding communities. We believe that the difference in the future potential of a child who has basic reading, writing and computer skills as opposed to one without is enormous. We don’t believe a proper primary education should be tied to the price of vanilla which varies from year to year. We believe in supporting the vanilla communities of Madagascar by sponsoring the construction of primary schools where they are needed the most.
Vanilla is a highly specialized crop grown via small scale farming using traditional farming and curing methods that date back generations. Madagascar is far and away the world’s dominant producer of vanilla but is also one of the world’s poorest communities. Sustainable farming and business practices are critical in helping Madagascar take control of its own destiny.
Techniques such as “quick curing” vanilla or exporting ‘semi-cured” vanilla to other countries for finishing, or even the extraction of “green” vanilla before any curing takes place all run counter to the spirit of sustainability. Such practices which will only serve to eliminate thousands of critically important jobs and diminish the quality of Madagascar Vanilla over the long run. It is estimated that there are over 60,000 vanilla farming families in Madagascar with hundreds of thousands of seasonal workers as well. The importance of this crop for the people of the North East coast of Madagascar and the country as a whole cannot be underestimated.