General Mills Initiative Helps Vanilla Farmers in Madagascar

Haagen-DazsGeneral Mills announced a new initiative today to help vanilla farmers in Madagascar. The global food giant is investing $125,000 over two years to help villages in Madagascar’s Sava region, where the global food company sources high-quality vanilla for its Häagen-Dazs ice cream. Madagascar is the world’s leading vanilla producer, responsible for over 80 percent of the world’s production. The company will partner with vanilla supplier Virginia Dare and the international humanitarian organization CARE to promote sustainable vanilla farming in Madagascar. Through the program, several hundred vanilla farmers will be trained and educated on how to produce a higher quality vanilla crop that is more sustainable. The program will also build vanilla curing and storage facilities.

“Contributing to the viability and sustainability of vanilla farming could have a significant impact on the lives of Malagasy growers, their communities, and the environment,” Steve Peterson, director of sourcing sustainability at General Mills, said.

Peterson added that vanilla “is the way of life for these people.” Through sharing their “supply chain expertise, while leveraging our financial resources,” General Mills can help create a higher-quality, more sustainable vanilla supply, while increasing the vanilla farmers’ living standards.

General Mills has a sustainable sourcing plan, and the sustainable vanilla sourcing program is part of the plan. In 2011, General Mills completed a global assessment of the ingredients and materials it sources, and developed a global sustainable sourcing model. The company prioritized 10 ingredients, of which vanilla is one, where it can achieve the most impacts.

The sustainable vanilla sourcing program is also just one of other programs that benefit smallholder farmers. In Mexico, General Mills’ Green Giant team works with broccoli and cauliflower farmers to encourage them to use drip irrigation, which greatly reduces water use. The company provides interest-free loans to the farmers to buy drip irrigation equipment in the Irapauto region of Mexico. Through the program, General Mills estimates that 1.1 billion gallons of water are saved.

General Mills has another program to help smallholder farmers in Mexico. The company’s 2012 CSR report details how General Mills helped farmers in central Mexico use organic compost from nearby chicken farms instead of synthetic fertilizer to spread on broccoli, cauliflower, carrots and celery. The organic chicken manure was used on about 4,000 acres in 2011, an increase from 250 acres in 2009. Switching from synthetic fertilizer to organic chicken manure reduces greenhouse gas emissions by about 12,000 tons a year, which is equivalent to taking 2,000 vehicles off the road. It is also cheaper, helps retain soil moisture so less water is used, and increases the yield by about three percent, on average.

The vanilla sustainable sourcing program is also not the partnership with CARE International. In Malawi, General Mills and CARE International partnered with Merck on the Join My Village program. The program has 350 village-based savings and loan associations which have administered over 3,000 small business loans to help women and families that are involved in agriculture in Malawi.

In addition to its sustainable sourcing plan, General Mills has environmental initiatives, including renting out the rooftop of its plant in Spain to MB Solar. A total of 4,500 solar panels were installed on the rooftop.

[Image credit: Flickr user, CesarCardoso]

Gina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by

5 responses

  1. That is awesome. I had no idea that GM had this program or ANY interest in sustainability. I am so encouraged when large corporations take the lead on environmental issues, such as water conservation and sustainable farming. Does anyone know if vanilla farming practices in Madagascar impact indigenous animals, and if GM’s sustainable farming practices are improving animal conservation on the continent?

  2. The farming works in harmony with the wildlife. All the work is very labor intensive and hand done. Living in this world is a true experience that not many get to see. If you saw how Vanilla comes to be you would be amazed. On another note the cost to purchase a kilo of Vanilla in town in Madagascar is about $75 a kilo or $30 per pound which is about 150 beans. Could General Mills or the ice cream companies pay a fair price and stop telling us they pay a fair price to the farmer. 20 cents a bean that sells for $5 is taken advantage of someone

    1. By probably encouraging them to clear more land for production, and reducing habitats. GM will only shake their heads when all the endemic species in Madagascar are extinct. Wondering what went wrong.

  3. Another grand con by another corporation. They corporate suddenly runs out of supply so has to pay more. “What to do” to fat cats in their glass towers will ask. Some smarter fat cat will think, ” make the peasants back in the colonies (oh sorry, its not a colony anymore!! OOOps!!) grow more!! Lazy buggers”

    So the fat cats send off a team, living in their 5 star hotels, eating meals that the cost of would feed a family for 6 months, yes a family of the ‘ peasants’ then driving in their fancy 4X4 (which uses more fuel than their ‘peasants’ use in a year) to the village, where they tell the villagers that they really love them so much that they just HAVE to give them money so they can grow more vanilla which Joe soap will collect from them, at a set price, which is why they will get the $$$$$$ (that’s their local tame crook who will tell his countrymen and neighbors that the king of America, -yes i know USA does not have a king but they don’t. They don’t even know where USA is) is coming to Madagascar especially to wash their feet and give them each a gold tooth, and a Zebu Cow for their first born child, if it would mean another free lunch and the odd $100 the rich foreigners gave him to tell his countrymen what they wanted them to know)

    Bottom line, corporate needs raw material, corporate comes to Africa or 3rd world where labor is dirt cheap and people are ignorant to their crooked ways. Locals are lied to, not understanding that the corporate will make back the little they are ‘giving’ many many times over in added profits and increased sales. Its actually a ‘no risk’ investment for the fat cats sitting in their hardwood paneled offices (wood, raped from our forests at prices .02% of the price its sold for on the world market)

    NO corporation gives anything without their being a benefit to themselves

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