Since 2016, children in the Sava region of Madagascar have been thriving thanks to the life-changing partnership between Unilever's Wall’s brand, Symrise, the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) and Save the Children.

Madagascar is the largest producer of vanilla globally, and the Sava region is known as the ‘Vanilla Belt’ of the country. Vanilla is at the heart of its communities, and as a result children's lives are directly influenced by the success of vanilla production. Despite recent growth in vanilla markets, Madagascar still remains one of the hardest places to be a child.

Many households still live on less than $2 a day and 1.2 million children aged 5–14 are economically active. 36% of girls have given birth by the age of 18.

That’s why Unilever, Symrise, Save the Children and the GIZ are partnering together to empower vanilla farming communities and create brighter futures for the next generation.

The partnership builds on work since 2013 by Unilever, Symrise and the GIZ, which helped vanilla farmers to improve farming practices in order to build more stable businesses and secure regular incomes to support themselves and their families.

With Save the Children’s involvement, there has been an increased focus on youth empowerment and children's rights.

One of the goals of the partnership has also been to raise consumer awareness with the inaugural Vanilla for Change campaign.

Castella, 19, is a member of Save the Children’s youth association and captain of the girls’ football team. Her mother, brother and uncle are all doing well selling vanilla to Symrise, who buys their produce for a fair price and supports them with healthcare benefits and rice supplies in leaner times. One of Castella’s sisters is at university, and Castella also has big ambitions for herself.

"The vanilla is ripe and smells really good. I like vanilla and its taste. My mother has worked on a vanilla farm for four years. She has always planted rice and started planting vanilla before Symrise came. She told me she joined Symrise because there are many advantages. For example, during the harvest season they give us rice. During the pollination process, Symrise lends her money until she gets paid. And we get a healthcare card that we can use to be treated in hospital."

"Since my mother joined Symrise we are much better off. The difference is that during the famine period – from April – we don’t have to borrow money. We were hungry before. Now Symrise can fix whatever problem we have. It is expensive to go to uni. My mum can pay for my sister to go because of her work on the vanilla farm."

Castella’s mother, Modestine: "We tell our children the historical price of vanilla, that once it was cheap – but now the price is high. As I see it, the vanilla has its sacredness because from a long time ago, from the moment we started to grow vanilla, people who became rich from it also became famous and had prestige. Even if you get the same money from rice, you don’t have the same prestige. Prestige is attached to the vanilla trade."

"The vanilla smells good – the smell opens up my heart. We use it for tea, coffee and jam."

Together, we have made a huge impact on the communities in the Sava region of Madagascar, reaching over 56,000 individuals with our activities.

Bolo, 18, makes a living by farming vanilla - something his mum, who has now passed away, taught him. Bolo is a vocal presence at the youth association and believes it will equip him for the future.

"Vanilla farming is very important for my community. Here in our village, our main income is vanilla farming. You can smell its fragrance. Once the vanilla is harvested, it smells good. Once I get money from my vanilla, I’ll save it to take care of my future life. I’ll buy planks and timbers to build a stone-based house. Once the vanilla is harvested, we organise a big party with the community."

Vanilla for Change aims to tackle some of the biggest issues affecting vanilla farmers and their families. The programme provides direct support to farmers and the wider community to improve their livelihoods, making sure they get a fair price for their crop, have access to health insurance and financial structures training. Community members have formed Village Savings and Loan Associations, which gives them access to fair credit, training on how to diversify, maximise and manage their income, and can now access life-saving healthcare through the Mahavelona health insurance.

Jean-Elye, 18, already has his own vanilla farm, which his parents gave to him. He is becoming the main provider in his family because his older brother has died and his parents are getting too old to work.

“The plot for my vanilla farm was given to me by my parents, and now I’m starting with 200ft of vanilla plants. There was a time when we couldn’t sell vanilla at a good price. But now the price is good, they’ve asked me to take over. I will do something about my house – I will build a more solid one with concrete walls. I’ll also save money at the bank."

"I’ve become very popular in the village. I can call on any family I want. I can go to any house and children love me! Also the parents trust me now. If my voice was taken away and I was forbidden from speaking and interacting in my community I would feel very bad about it. I think those people who have already been taught by me won’t do this. If every child’s right to have a say is respected it will be very good for the community and Madagascar, and is important for the future of children. If adults listen to children they won’t drop out of school when they’re young."

"I have noticed changes already. There is less violence. Before I noticed violence against children. Parents sent their children to school without worrying what might happen to them on the way. But now parents try to accompany children to school as much as possible, and also be with the children themselves a lot more. That’s the difference. To convince them I tell them that children are the future of our nation so if they are neglected, if they don’t take care of themselves and their parents don’t take care of them, who will take care of the nation?"

Thanks to Vanilla for Change, whole communities have been strengthened with the promotion of positive behaviours to better protect children’s rights. People in the community have been trained as peer educators and disseminate our ‘Essential Package’ of training which encourages improved family health, nutrition and parenting behaviours. Youth leaders are also trained to holding sessions with their peers to discuss critical issues such as HIV, early pregnancy and contraceptives. Radio broadcasting continues to reach approximately half of the population with sexual reproductive health messaging.

Marinette, 24, is a peer educator for Save the Children in her community. She teaches young people about the issues that affect their lives, from marriage and early pregnancy to health and hygiene. She also works with parents to help them better care for their children.

"I can see now that some parents have already changed how they treat their children. They follow my example. Between girls we can now speak freely and openly. For example, we discuss everyday issues and marriage advice. I also tell the girls tips for their sexual health.”

Our partnership continues to drive sector wide change, addressing concerns related to child protection and the sexual exploitation of children in vanilla producing communities. As part of this work, we carried out a study on the impact of the vanilla industry on the lives of children and used these finding to help develop a Child Safeguarding Code of Conduct and guide for all businesses to ensure better protection of children living in vanilla farming communities.

Flogie, 19, is President of the Save the Children Youth Committee and a Child Protection Animator. He feels passionate about the importance of respecting children’s rights and believes the programme helps keep young people out of trouble and builds a better future for his community. He is proud of the difference he is helping to make in his community.

“We sensitise people – especially parents – about what children’s rights are. We also tell them about possible penalties when they transgress. The future of children depends on how they’re treated. If we, the youth, were not active and positive, I don’t think there would be any development in the village – it would stay in a hole and it would not develop and improve."

Young people are now better equipped and supported to make positive life choices, protect themselves and build more viable livelihoods as there has been a strong focus on youth empowerment. They have increased access to education services such as numeracy and literacy ‘catch up’ classes, Youth Committees, career guidance and rural training colleges such as the maison familiale rurale (MFR) where young people can study technical topics such as agriculture and farming.

Dorite, 19, was raised by her grandparents, who she still lives with as part of a huge family. She is an adviser with a Save the Children youth association, which she believes is opening up new opportunities for young people in the area and teaching them things that set them apart from their peers. She has a very active life – playing football for the local girls’ team, learning foreign languages and working for the youth association.

“The youth committee is improving things. There are many jobless young people here so the youth committee and MFR give them the opportunity to learn a profession. We learn about money management, children’s rights and so on.”

To increase female participation in the Youth Committees, the partnership set up football teams with the aim of encouraging girls to join. They have regular training sessions and on match days, the whole community comes out and cheers the girls on. In early 2019, members from some Youth Committees took part in the Vanilla Cup, a football tournament which was organised to celebrate the partnership and commemorate Wall’s International Day of Happiness activities.

Germina, 17, is involved with Save the Children's youth association and plays on the football team.

"When I play football, I’m always smiling. My favourite thing about football is the training and friendship. Our relationship in the team is peaceful and respectful. My friends from the team, we talk about life and love."

Your support has been instrumental in making change for children and their communities in Madagascar; we are so proud of what we have achieved as a partnership. We look forward to continuing to work together and making even greater impact to even more communities over the next four years.

Let's continue to make real change for children.

Thank you.