Yaqui for Borderland Beat from: Milenio
Pillage and robbery: Ejidatarios have been killed for defending the vanilla crop.
(Photos Héctor Tellez)
Vanilla, another ”Black gold” commodity ripe for exploitation at the hands of organized crime cartels. Because of insecurity, the vanilla plant and its aromatic, flavorful pod is in danger of extinction. Vanilla is endangered by massive theft.
Vanilla Planifolia is a genus of orchid native to Mexico, it is the only orchid not used for ornamental reasons and is the most widely used flavoring agent in the world. Cultivated since pre-Hispanic times, vanilla was positioned as one of the most expensive species in the world for its production and transportation costs. At present, the demand of different markets has potentiated the purchase of synthetic vanilla, whose cost is 10 times lower. This displacement has caused the fluctuation of the price of vanilla in Mexico.
Due to the lack of governmental support for the cultivation of vanilla, at present, there are only two thousand producers in the area of national production. A second consequence of this lack of support has resulted in delaying Mexico in the vanilla production competition and positioning Indonesia and Madagascar as the dominant countries in the world market due to its technological process.
|Vanilla Planifolia, Genus Orchid, Mexican Native
The multiple robberies to farmers and merchants have put at risk the production of the spice, which reaches a value of up to 700 dollars per kilo; the affected have asked for attention to there plight and security.
After saffron, it is the second most expensive spice in the world: one kilo can reach $700 US dollars , about 14,000 pesos. But for some time, farmers and producers face multiple thefts of their crops that have put at risk the production of this crop. “Sadly, vanilla is in danger of extinction,” laments Óscar Ramírez , a Veracruz producer.
Chiapas , Oaxaca and San Luis Potosí are some of the producing states in the country, but Veracruz , and particularly Papantla , is “the capital of vanilla”, even, at some time it was known as “the city that perfumes the world” . “But those are only memories,” evokes the president of the association Vainilleros en Unidad y Trabajo, which brings together 82 producers, most of them from the Totonacapan region.
“What nobody takes away is that to date we have the designation of origin : Papantla vanilla, and it is the best quality in the world.”
“Ridiculous” laws: In Papantla, a municipal decree that dates back decades points out the punishment for vanilla theft and details precise dates for its harvest. The fine for anyone who commits assaults or breaches the rule is 20 pesos. “It’s ridiculous, we have to update that decree and even see the possibility of converting it into a national law,” says Ramírez.
In recent years, a large number of farmers have stopped cultivating it in the region, many because of the thefts they suffer , and that since the vanilla has a process of three years, on average, to reach the harvest. “Imagine that in a matter of minutes they steal the work of years,” explains Juan Salazar , a native farmer of El Ojital.
In this town of Papantla, don Juan has dedicated all his life to the sowing of vanilla, but for some time, with the support of the association, decided to market it in tequila, liquor, perfume, flavoring and as an extract (flavoring), the use that most know.
While touring the almost three hectares he uses for cultivation, Don Juan clarifies that the robberies of farmers and producers occur when the harvest season approaches , between the months of October and November. He also attributes these “ant” thefts – as he calls them – to recent increases in the value of this crop. For example, in the last three years the sale price of the kilo of gourmet quality dried vanilla almost tripled , whose pod is 18 centimeters or larger, “the best on the market”.
Since then, when the harvest date approaches, the farmers have had to take desperate measures. “To guarantee that they would be able to harvest for what they had worked all year long the farmers stayed and slept in their plots, made bonfires and went to bed 10 meters from the fire because those who cut it to steal it enter at dawn.
“Many peasants carry a machete , but if the robber ( or poacher ) brings a weapon, it exposes the life of the farmer,” he says. Don Juan says that even Ejidatarios have been killed for defending their harvest. “That also meant that some farmers have deserted their way of life of continuing to sow vanilla for fear of being robbed or that something drastic will happen to them,” he recalls.
In September, coyotes seek to take advantage of this situation:
“They want to acquire vanilla early , before it reaches its nine months of maturity, they come to pay cheaply and the producer sometimes prefers to sell it at low cost so that it is not stolen. “The peasants are afraid: “They are going to take away all the effort of years that I have in it and I prefer to give it to a stranger and have him give me a few pesos”. Sometimes that is not even half the real value,” explains Ramírez.
Sales go down:
Not only farmers and farmers have been victims of insecurity. Having several uses, the trade in vanilla-based products has also been hit by the violence that has long been experienced in Veracruz.”
Because of insecurity , tourism no longer reaches us , and if that does not arrive, we do not sell.
Every year we realize that the sale is going down, people come here less and less, ” says Claudia Méndez , who makes handicrafts with the vanilla pod. The producers, farmers and traders of vanilla have asked the authorities to over to see them. “We need a reinforcement in security , or have an authority that protects us as producers.
“Vanilla has to be protected, it is in danger of extinction, and like any other species or animal that is in danger of extinction, they make all the laws to protect it, so must be done urgently with vanilla,” said Ramírez .