Cyclone Enawo – 2017 Madagascar Vanilla Crop Decimated

Published on March 29, 2017 in Chef Zieg's Favorites, Events, Spice Geek, Spices 101.

Chef Zieg with SPICES Poster

March 28, 2017

Three weeks ago Tropical Cyclone Enawo (In the Atlantic Ocean cyclones are called hurricanes), boasting 145 mph sustained winds, hit the Indian Ocean island of Madagascar. This was equivalent to a Category IV Hurricane. The Weather Channel reported that this was the worst storm to hit Madagascar in 13 years. The devastation to the people of Madagascar (81 deaths are reported so far) is tremendous and the islands most valuable crop is also likely to be devastated.

Madagascar sells between 75% and 85% of the world’s vanilla beans depending upon the harvest year and the reporting agency. Neilsen Massey, one of the world’s largest sellers of vanilla beans and vanilla extract note on their webpage dedicated to Cyclone Enawo that “it’s clear the storm has caused major damage to the island and its infrastructure. What’s unclear at this point is the full extent of the damage, given that many areas remain without any form of communication.”

This damage comes on the heels of a poor 2016 Vanilla Bean crop. In a 2016 report CBS News noted the dramatic increase in vanilla pricing from a low of $11 per pound in 2011 to a high of $216 per pound in 2016. Cook’s Flavoring Company reports on its webpage dedicated to Cyclone Enawo “that most of the crop (90-100%) in Antalaha is destroyed and 80% of the crop in Sambava.” They further report, “U.S. prices as of last week (pre-ENAWO), were $500/kilo for premium quality Madagascar vanilla. If it were possible to purchase today (it is not, because all vanilla is currently being held awaiting reports of crop damage), prices would be well over $600/kilo.”

There is no commodity trading market of vanilla beans or extract. Patricia Rain, The Vanilla Queen, notes in her book, “Vanilla,” that there is far more pure vanilla sold in the world than there are beans to produce it. Cyclone Enawo’s impact is just beginning to be felt.

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