Within the 4Cities4Dev project, the Mananara Vanilla Presidium community in Madagascar is supported by the city of Riga. A delegation from the city will visit the Presidium in 2012, and members of the community will attend the event planned in Riga for August 2012.
SLOW FOOD MANANARA VANILLA PRESIDIUM
This Presidium was created with the collaboration of the NGO Intercòoperation, Development Environmental Consultant (DEC) and the Association Nationale pour la Gestion des Aires Protégées Malgaches (ANGAP). Thanks to the support of the Presidium, 900 producers have organized themselves into a cooperative, working to improve cultivation and processing techniques and to market the vanilla.
Mananara's remoteness and its status as a Biosphere Reserve have helped preserve the traditional style of production but have also limited producers to selling only to local distributors. Although vanilla is one of the world's most precious spices, farmers usually receive only a very small share of its market value. By forming a cooperative and facilitating certification and direct sales, the Presidium aims to guarantee higher profits for the producers, which can then be reinvested into the community.
This project also has a strong ecological value: Madagascar has an extraordinary biodiversity and the vanilla growers live in one of the country's few national parks. By supporting the low-impact cultivation of vanilla instead of crops that require slash-and-burn agriculture, the Presidium is working to maintain sustainable agriculture that protects the environment.
Mananara vanilla has been certified as "Bio" by Ecocert since 2005, according to CEE and US-NOP rules, and has been Biosuisse certified since 2006. Additionally, since 2007, Mananara Vanilla has been fair-trade certified (Max Haveelar) by Flo Cert. Following these certifications, the cooperative was able to finance infrastructural micro-projects, connecting the local villages to each other.
Vanilla was first used as a flavoring by the Aztecs and is still grown in the tropical forests of Central America, but some of the best vanilla in the world is grown in Madagascar, far from its original homeland. First brought to the island by the French colonists in 1840, vanilla flourished in the fertile soil of the humid northern rainforests and soon became famous under the name Bourbon vanilla, thanks to its heady scent with notes of prune, dried fruit and cloves.
Today, Madagascar produces over two-thirds of the world's vanilla, all of which is grown in the island's humid northern regions. Larger plantations are slowly replacing the traditional style of cultivation, in which vanilla plants are planted at the base of large trees in the rainforest. In the Mananara-Nord Biosphere Reserve, created by UNESCO and ANGAP in the extreme northeast of the island, vanilla growers still use traditional basic methods on small plots, cultivating 20 to 40 vanilla plants each.
The vanilla orchids are grown in remote villages scattered around the reserve, linked to the port only by footpaths. Vanilla planifolia is a climbing plant, with thick green stems and leathery leaves.
The blossoms are pollinated by hand using a small stick or tweezers. After pollination, flowers develop into long light-green odorless pods full of seeds, similar to fresh beans. The fresh green pods are blanched in hot water, then covered and kept in a warm location for two to three weeks. During this time they become soft and black, acquiring an intense aroma. The pods are then wrapped in woolen blankets and stored on the upper floors of the houses to keep them warm and dry. As the pods "sweat" extra moisture, enzymes within the pods liberate vanilla's principal flavor component: vanillin.
During this key phase, which lasts five or six weeks, the local women rub each of the vanilla pods every day with their fingers, cleaning them and making them supple and smooth.
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