Cyclone Gafilo hit the Indian ocean island earlier this week leaving much of the country's rice, vanilla, manioc and other crops totally decimated and over 100,000 people homeless.
Madagascar exports an average of 1,000 metric tonnes a year of natural or 'pure' vanilla, representing about half the world market. The product is vital to the country's struggling economy and accounts for over 10 per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP).
Prices for this valuable commodity shot up after cyclone Hudah hit the country three years ago leaving the food and beverage industry in short supply. In 2000 vanilla was sold for $50 a kilogramme, by last year prices reached an all-time high of $400-$500 per kilo.
According to ITC/UN Statistics the total global demand for vanilla is about 2000 to 3000 metric tonnes a year with the world market for vanilla beans highly concentrated in a few developed countries.
Observers of Madagascar's economy report that the record price of vanilla may not actually be such good news for the economy in the long term.
There are concerns that because growers and collectors want to benefit from this peak in the market, some traders may attempt to sell sub-standard vanilla, causing damage to Madagascar's reputation as the producer of the finest natural vanilla in the world.
The higher the price of natural vanilla, the greater the temptation for large-scale manufacturers to purchase artificial vanilla instead. Synthetic vanillin accounts for more than 90 per cent of the US vanilla flavouring market and about 50 per cent of the French market (the lowest national share). One ounce of artificially produced vanillin has roughly the same flavouring power as a gallon of natural vanilla extract.
In addition, synthetic vanillin costs one-hundredth of the price of the natural product and not only substitutes for vanilla but also supplements adulterated vanilla extracts.
Cultivating vanilla beans is a lengthy process. The vanilla plant, a tropical orchid, takes about three years to flower. Each flower must be hand-pollinated to produce the bean, which remains on the vine for eight to nine months until it matures.