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Mexican vanilla's pollinators under threat

Carolina Chimoy
May 7, 2019

Vanilla's native Mexico is the only place in the world where the fragrant orchid is pollinated without human help. But pesticides threaten to wipe out the insects that do the job, in turn threatening human livelihoods.

Man is holding a Vanilla Orchid, Mexico
Image: DW/Carolina Chimoy

The role of bees in vanilla growing

Project goal: To integrate biodiversity and ecosystem services into planning and decisions made by key public and private sector players in Mexican agribusiness

Project partners: The Federal Minister for the Environment, Nature Conservation, and Nuclear Safety (BMU), The Mexican Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT), the Mexican Secretariat of Agriculture and Rural Development (SADER), the Mexican Agency for International Development Cooperation (AMEXCID), and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)

Implemented by: the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), BIOMA

Project financing: Funded with €5 million from the German Environment Ministry within the framework of its International Climate Initiative (IKI).

Vanilla is one of the most expensive ingredients in the world, currently hitting a record €600 per kilo ($300 per pound) on the world market. The orchid is native to Mexico, and only there are insects able to pollinate it. Growers in other parts of the world must pollinate the plants by hand.

Now, pesticides and chemical fertilizers threaten insects in vanilla's native land, and nature's pollinators are increasingly rare. That has severe consequences for ecosystems, and for the farmers who rely on vanilla for a living.

A film by Carolina Chimoy