Vanilla: From Concern to Crisis

Vanilla, the world’s most delicious orchid, has been going up in price. The beans are more expensive due to several factors, including a poor crop in Madagascar, the world’s biggest producer. Other problems include speculators who hoard the beans, previous years of low prices when farmers switched to other crops, and criminals who use the beans to launder dirty money from the illegal rosewood trade.

Vanilla farmers around the world are facing other problems, also. Since most farmers use genetic clones, the vines may be vulnerable to disease. Wild Vanilla planifolia is increasingly rare in its native Latin American range, and this reduces essential genetic diversity. Habitat destruction threatens remaining wild populations, and also threatens pollinators. Despite these worries, as the second most expensive spice after saffron, vanilla farmers will find a way to keep growing those delicious beans.

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