Around 20,000 children aged 12 to 17 are working in the lucrative production of vanilla in Madagascar, the International Labour Organisation said on Tuesday.
“We have studied the northern region of Sava since 2009 and we have accounted for 20,000 children, around 31 to 33 percent of the work force producing vanilla,” ILO representative for the Indian Ocean Christian Ntsay told AFP.
Madagascar is the world’s leading producer of vanilla, producing 60 percent of global supply.
The country’s tropical northern Sava region is home to the bulk of production.
Ntsay said cultural norms lay behind the use of child labour.
One person involved in the sector, who asked not to be named, said the training of children was necessary to keep the skill alive.
“The plantations are fragile, cultivating vanilla is complex,” he said. “Parents transmit the knowledge to their kids because there is not a school for that, but it can interfere with their studies.”
Once prepared and dried vanilla is sold for $20 to $40 (15 to 30 euros) per kilo on the international market.
It is considered one of the most expensive ingredients in the world and is the fruit of certain species of orchids.
Originally from Central America, it was imported to Madagascar in the nineteenth century by planters Reunion.