Symrise has been purchasing vanilla in Madagascar for years. Roughly 10 years ago, the company updated its procurement strategy on the island in the Indian Ocean and formed a network of about 7,000 farmers who produce 36 raw materials and profit in many different ways from this partnership. During that same time, Symrise started its own experimental farm, expanded its production operation, achieved additional sustainability in agriculture on many levels and forged a fair partnership with the farmers. A glimpse at a unique value chain.


1 – An ever-expanding portfolio

Symrise procures only natural products from Madagascar. We started with vanilla and have expanded our portfolio to 36 products since 2014. These products are broken down into three groups. First, we purchase our blockbusters there, things like vanilla pods as well as mandarin, patchouli, geranium and vetiver oils. Second, our grand crus: high-quality products that are tailored just for Symrise, including oils made of longoza, pink-pepper leaf, ylang-ylang and cinnamon. Third, we develop innovative products there, products in which we combine traditional techniques like enfleurage and modern technologies like CO2 extraction.

A focus on ethical procurement
While performing this work, we take steps to ensure that all procurement sources are ethically impeccable. This is a commitment that we clearly defined in the strategy we developed 10 years ago. We can trace the journey of every raw material back to the farm where it was produced. The well-being of farmers’ families is one of our major concerns. We also maintain and regenerate biological diversity on the farms and protect the environment by sustainably using plants. We apply the Symrise Sustainability Strategy and comply with the Nagoya Protocol, which provides a framework for access to genetic resources and is intended to ensure fair benefit sharing for the countries in which the raw materials grow. Our products are certified on the basis of the standards set by Organic, COSMOS, Fair Trade, Fair For Life and UEBT. These certifications apply to both cultivation and production facilities. We work together with the farmers to always develop fast, pragmatic solutions. We are also audited annually by the independent certification organizations Ecocert and FloCert. As an active member of UEBT, we act as an advocate of sustainable farming practices.

Tremendous benefits for all divisions
Our raw materials are prized by both Symrise segments. An example: The Food & Beverage division uses ginger oil, while the Cosmetic Ingredients division relies on powdered ginger. One of the three pillars of our perfume raw materials specialist, Maison Lautier, is already dedicated to our natural substances portfolio, as is one of the four pillars of the Naturals business unit. 

More raw materials, innovative technologies
This also means that we will have to maintain stable supplies in the future in spite of market fluctuations. We will secure supplies by drawing on our network of small vanilla farmers. We are also planning to add other special raw materials to our portfolio and apply innovative processing technologies. We prioritize sustainability as well: This focus starts with local production in Madagascar and extends to our efforts to upcycle individual raw materials for certain uses on a cross-divisional basis. 

The wide-ranging world of nature in Madagascar produces dozens of natural raw materials.

Laurence Briand,
Madagaskar country General Manager

Fanny Rakotoarivelo,
Naturals Development Manager

Patchouli is an important raw material for the fragrance industry.

2 – Close relationship with farmers

Symrise purchases its raw materials in the SAVA region but also in other areas in the north of the island. Some of the farming areas are in very remote locations and are difficult to reach on the dirt roads that lead to and from them. But the broad expanse of the locations on the island pays off in one major way: We can keep our customers supplied with products even if natural events cause crop failures. It’s very unlikely that typhoons will hit every corner of the island during a single season.

40,000 people profit
We partner with about 7,000 farmers who, on average, cultivate one hectare of land. They grow vanilla on one half and food, crops and firewood on the other half. The farmers have been certified by the UEBT/ Rainforest Alliance, Fair Trade Organic or Fair For Life Organic. The farmers’ families comprise a total of about 40,000 people, and these people benefit from our partnership. We also strive to increase the role of women in this work – women now run about 28 % of the farms. We also support the next generation of farmers.

Teaching more sustainable farming practices
One focal point of our work is to teach better and more sustainable farming practices to farmers. We have set up an agro-innovation center in Benavony for this purpose. We conduct research there into such topics as organic disease and pest control to improve the health of soil and make vanilla vines less susceptible to disease. We also promote agro-forest systems where food and fragrance raw materials that are important to us, like patchouli, are grown. The knowledge of the farmers is also very helpful to us. Together with the results produced in test operations, this knowledge leads to new farming practices. 

Support on all levels
The partnership is strong. But the challenges faced by farmers remain large. The country has hardly any infrastructure, like roads, schools and hospitals. The infrastructure that does exist is in poor condition. It lacks social safety nets like insurance or government disaster-relief funds that are provided in the aftermath of natural catastrophes. Most of the farms are also so small that the farmers can hardly earn a living from them. Our network helps farmers increase their productivity and tap several sources of income so that they are able to get through crises more easily. As part of this effort, we work with them to develop various value chains, purchase products at different times of year to ensure that they have an income throughout the year and pay prices that cover the sustainable production costs. We help them go into aquaculture, beekeeping and poultry farming. We also distribute seeds and seedlings to the farmers. 

Sustainable support for a better future
One other top priority is to teach farmers to manage their budget and savings in order to pay off their debts. More than 20,000 people now have health insurance thanks to our efforts. We have about 7,000 farmers in the farm management program and have trained about 11,000 in good farming practices. We also help about 90 parent groups purchase basic educational materials for elementary schools and pay the salaries of additional teachers. We have also set up five training centers where young people can learn to become farmers. We will continue to carry out this work because it enables us to achieve several goals at once. We are committed to further strengthening the position of the farmers, easing the pressure on the soil and nature reserves with their sweeping array of biodiversity and teaching even more efficient farming practices. We move closer to achieving our sustainability goals by doing so. 

Sharman Rambirana,
Sustainable Program Manager

Jessica Fournier,
Sustainable Sourcing Manager

3 – Our own farm as an anchor point

In Madagascar, Symrise produces a broad range of products that includes the raw materials grown by small farmers in the region. The process works very well. But we have learned over the years that farmers cannot or do not want to cultivate certain plants. There are many reasons why. Some farmers may view planting certain trees as too risky because they have no experience with them. Examples of these plants include bay, ylang-ylang and citrus trees. Some farmers prefer to grow only vanilla because it has the highest yield. Madagascar is also subject to crop-damaging typhoons. We have to broadly position our raw-material supply operation as a result.

Four farming operations
But demand for high-quality and traceable products is high. We set up our own farm with four individual farming operations to respond to it. “La Ferme des Hauts,” the largest farming operation, uses tractors and irrigation systems for the purpose of maintaining the biological diversity between wetlands, forests and fallow land. We plant natural barriers to prevent soil erosion between parcels of land, operate a composting facility and rehabilitate the soil. We also cultivate such aromatic plants as ylang-ylang, palma rosa, lemongrass, vetiver, bay and pink pepper. At the “Ambodipont Farm,” we grow acacia and eucalyptus trees. We use the renewable wood from these trees to fire the boilers in our factory – and we run our “Torsten Farm” to gain experience with the cultivation of citrus trees.

Role model for regenerative farming
We also plant new cultures like tuberose, Orris root, cosmos and Chinese raspberry, so we can determine their suitability for the region, define the standards we must apply and learn how we can process these plants. In addition, we are testing various irrigation and composting systems that could be used to improve the quality of soil without applying any chemical supplements. We are also working on mechanical harvesting methods for such things as vetiver roots to increase yields per hectare.

Everyone profits
We all profit from our farms: the farmers, the environment and Symrise. The farmers have to take less risk and can learn from us. The environment profits because we are adapting to climate changes, increasing biodiversity, setting up agroforestry cultivation systems and regenerating the soil. Symrise profits as well because we can provide our customers with sustainable production that is based on quality, quantity and total traceability.

Vetiver is a sweet grass that is distilled to produce an unforgettable fragrance oil.

The essential oil from the ylang-ylang plant is widely used by the perfume industry.

Thierry Bernard,
Farm Manager

Ginger is produced on Madagascar for use in aroma and scent therapy.

4 – A constantly improving production operation

For the past 10 years, we have been running our own production operation, an activity that has changed enormously during this time. In the beginning, we only extracted vanilla pods that had been grown and fermented here on the island. Since then, we have added a broad range of new technologies and processes and expanded our portfolio while doing so.

Much more than vanilla
We produce vanilla extracts for the Symrise segment Taste, Nutrition & Health, extracts for our Fragrance division and essential and plant oils and dried ginger. In addition to vanilla extraction, we have set up a distillery in which we primarily produce vetiver and longoza oils. We dry ginger rhizom there and store various essential oils supplied by farmers from the region. We have also expanded the factory and created an area where we can receive and sort plant material. We process the dried ginger in another area of the production operation.

Analysis and processing
All products delivered to us pass through a precisely defined process. We analyze them with the help of gas chromatographs to identify individual elements. Accepted qualities are filtered with high-performance materials and packed in containers. Our products are also UEBT and/or Bio and Cosmos certified. The factory is approved as a halal and kosher factory as well. What’s more, we continuously expand our technologies. These additions include new drying and CO2 extraction facilities and a Symtrap® column. This patented process enables us to use side streams from plant processing to achieve higher quality or yields. One example of this is vetiver oil, one of the biggest selling products in the Symrise Fragrance division.

Plans for the future
We have many plans for the years to come. We want to use enfleurage technology to create additional flowery accents. In this process, petals are placed on fat and their scents diffuse into it. Maison Lautier – our natural perfume branch in France – extracts the scents and then processes them. We are also developing niche products by extracting unusual wild flowers through the use of supercritical carbon dioxide. One of our highest priorities is long-term thinking. Our region has virtually no industrial infrastructure. This means that we need a long lead time regarding repairs and new acquisitions. We have gained additional energy independence by erecting a solar park – and we are also reducing our carbon footprint in the process.

Arnaud Wallez,
Head of the Distillation Operation at the plant in Benavony/Sambava

Many jobs are done by hand in the fields of Madagascar to obtain high-quality raw materials.