Blight hits world's vanilla supply
Savour the egg-nog while you can - a lethal disease is wiping out vanilla plantations in Madagascar, the world's major producer of the spice.
Last week Simeon Rakotomamonjy and his team at the National Center for Research Applied to Rural Development in Antananarivo reported that an unknown fungus has struck 80 per cent of plantations in two of the country's main growing areas.
They blame a price surge in the 1990s, which prompted farmers to plant seedlings too densely and without optimal shade and moisture. Since vanilla is propagated as cuttings it has little genetic diversity. Both factors make it a prime target for the fungal disease - which has yet to be properly diagnosed.
"Yet again a crop vital for poor farmers is getting killed off due to lack of funding for services that diagnose plant diseases," says Dagmar Hanold of the University of Adelaide, Australia.