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Back from Madagascar

Travel Journal: Return from Madagascar


Journey to the source of vanilla, clove, green salty coastal pepper, pink peppercorn, and voatsiperifery pepper


Nicknamed "the red island" for its lateritic soils, Madagascar is a treasure of biodiversity and a paradise for botanists.

With nearly 80% of endemic plants, its unique ecosystem offers a flora of unparalleled richness. In terms of spices, it is notably home to the famous vanilla, pepper, clove, and cinnamon. The island is also distinguished by its majestic baobabs, with thick trunks and branches resembling roots turned towards the sky, and by its exotic orchids, with bright colors and intriguing shapes.

Exploring Madagascar is therefore to immerse oneself in a world where nature reigns supreme, offering a living laboratory for science and a paradise for lovers of spices and rare plants.

Population: approximately 25.7 million inhabitants (2018 census).
Area: 587,295 km².
Capital: Antananarivo (Tananarive, about 2 million inhabitants).
Official languages: Malagasy and French.
Currency: the Ariary.
Distinctive features:
• 5th largest island in the world
• 4,800 km of coastline
• 2nd largest coral reef
• 5 large lakes, about thirty rivers, 3 tsingy sites

Sava, the Kingdom of Vanilla

La Sava is one of the 23 regions of the island, whose name is an acronym formed from the names of its 4 districts: Sambava, Antalaha, Vohemar, and Andapa. The region is located in the northeast of Madagascar. It is here that the precious vanilla is cultivated, and where we begin our journey.
Set off to meet the vanilla pollinators

In the remote villages of the Toamasina province

We no longer count the number of rice fields lined up, the number of rivers crossed, the number of hills climbed. After several hours of walking on the steep paths of the Toamasina province, we are rewarded with an extraordinary welcome in the most remote villages of the island.

As a true totem animal of Madagascar, being offered a zebu as a token of thanks is the highest form of recognition. You can imagine our embarrassment when we had to decline the offer due to a definite lack of arguments to convince the pilot of the return plane to load the animal in the hold... Fortunately, the slight is quickly forgiven amid great laughter and by accepting a few vanilla pods in exchange.


Cloves at the Heart of Village Life



Here, there is an atmosphere of lightness and contagious good humor. Families busy themselves with sorting cloves. It's also a time for exchange among neighbors. People share the latest news and discuss the ongoing harvests.

Learn more

On the coasts, the "Green salty pepper"

In the same region, along the East coast of the Indian Ocean, green salty pepper from the coasts is cultivated and produced. This pepper is hand-harvested when the clusters are immature. The harvest extends from February to May. All stages of production are entirely manual and carried out by the expert hands of Malagasy village women.

The green pepper is first brined and then dried. This process results in a crunchy and robust grain that can be snacked on like a spiced peanut. It is distinct from traditional green peppers (freeze-dried and dehydrated) in its texture, spiciness, and salty taste.

The Anôsy region and the pink peppercorn

We travel across the lands towards the coastline of the extreme south of the country and the town of Fort-Dauphin, in a region named Anôsy. It is here that we have an appointment with our friends, the producers of pink peppercorns.

We learn that the recently concluded harvest was simply exceptional! The berries grew abundantly and were picked at full maturity, ensuring optimal quality. The quality of the pink peppercorn is recognized by its rounded shape, smooth and regular appearance, but especially by its bright and shiny red/pink hue.

Learn more about the pink peppercorn


Voatsiperifery Pepper, the Discreet King of the Forests


The Voatsiperifery pepper gets its name from the Malagasy words "voa," meaning "fruit," and "tsiperifery," meaning "plant." This vine grows wild on trees in the tropical forests in the warm and humid regions of Eastern Madagascar. The Voatsiperifery pepper hides in the heart of the forest, and collectors, like our mushroom hunters, keep their "good spots" a secret.

Its annual harvest, entirely by hand, is delicate because the vines, which climb up to thirty meters high, are sometimes inaccessible. The fruit is picked from June to August (ten kilograms of fresh fruits yield one kilogram of dried pepper), then it is sorted and graded by hand. The dark red color of the dried fruit is a sign of optimal maturity at the time of harvest, and thus synonymous with quality.

This wild pepper is often confused with cubeb, earning it the nickname "cubeb of the country" in Madagascar.

The proliferation of illegal harvesting; the lack of access to energy in these regions, forcing residents to rely on wood for heating and cooking; the slash-and-burn cultivation method, also widespread in cassava plantations and rice fields which are the main source of food; are the main causes of deforestation.

In this context, the valorization of Voatsiperifery pepper appears as a bulwark against forest destruction. For growth, the vines necessarily need to evolve in a dense forest environment. Therefore, we have built with our partners a sustainable supply chain with virtuous harvesting practices. The harvest is particularly controlled and regulated by the Malagasy government. Each harvesting area is precisely geographically delimited, and an official harvesting volume is defined in agreement with the authorities.

Thanks to our partners who are present every day among these rural communities, we work with the families of harvesters, training them in sustainable agricultural practices and reforestation commitments. The harvesters with whom we have chosen to work are trained in climbing techniques and participate in reforestation of degraded areas. The vines are preserved year after year and continue to grow and flourish, developing ever more abundant clusters.


The Traveler's Tree


The traveler's tree, or ravinala (Ravenala madagascariensis), is an endemic plant of Madagascar, belonging to the Strelitziaceae family. It doesn't have a trunk but a stipe formed by the sheathing petiole bases of its leaves, similar to a banana tree. Its immense leaves (2 to 4 meters) are paddle-shaped and arranged to form a sort of elegant fan.

While some claim that its name, the traveler's tree, comes from its ability to offer a drink to the thirsty from the water retained at the base of its petioles, the truth is quite different! Indeed, this stagnant water allows the development of fauna and is a favored breeding site for them. The real source of water is the tree's sap, which is drinkable, refreshing, and can be consumed by opening the stipe with a machete blow.


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