Aneityum’s economy thrives on tourism, with much of its income generated through cruise ships and other tourism-related activities. Border closures because of COVID-19, and subsequent disruption to the cruise-tourism industry, have seen a significant reduction in household earnings on the island. With the support of the Tafea Provincial Government, and in collaboration with the Department of Industry (DOI) and Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD), the Tafea Skills Centre under the Ministry of Education and Training and supported by the Vanuatu Skills Partnership (VSP), and other partners have successfully harvested, processed, shipped and sold vanilla beans valued at 1.6 million vatu.
Climate conditions down south are conducive to the cultivation of vanilla, which can provide economic opportunities at both the household and national level through increased income and contribution to Vanuatu’s high value product exports. However, according to Mr. Michael Louze a technical coach engaged by the Tafea Skills Centre, “there was a massive decline in local farmers’ interest in vanilla cultivation some years back, because of the difficulty faced in accessing lucrative international market opportunities and a decline in world market prices”. But now with an increase in market prices and the support of this multi-partner initiative, this situation is being reversed. From its origins working with three vanilla farmers with a combined annual yield of 30kg of vanilla, DARD, through its Field Assistant Officer (FAO), now supports 30 active vanilla farmers, who produced 100 kg’s of processed vanilla this year. “Aneityum is anticipating an increase in quality and quantity of vanilla production to capitalise on export opportunities thanks to the support of DARD, DOI and the Tafea Skills Centre”, confirmed Mr Louise.
A successful two-day sorting, grading, weighing, packaging, and sales exercise was conducted in Port Vila, and was the first initiative of its kind. It aimed to establish grading requirements and standards, and to establish the transfer of technical knowledge to DARD officers. The grading committee is comprised of Mr. Michaël Louze (technical coach, Tafea Skills Centre/VSP), Mr. Xavier Nako (DOI TAFEA), Mr. Mike Jimmy (FAO Aneityum) and Mr. Fernand Massing (DARD Spices Officer).
Mr Christophe Frocrain, owner of Organic Paradise and a major vanilla buyer, shared his appreciation for the commitment of farmers in Aneityum. “I would like to thank the Aneityum farmers for their amazing work. They are in a big way contributing to the economy of Vanuatu. The initiative is very good because it allows fair pricing to the farmer, the buyer, and the Government of Vanuatu, in the process of developing the industry. It is important to provide feedback on real market expectation to farmers so they can target high quantity and high-quality yields, which will in turn increase exports. I am excited to be part of the market explorations team, which will contribute to increasing access for Vanuatu’s vanilla farmers.”
Chris Dunbar, owner of Santo-based buyer Venui Vanilla, also congratulated and thanked the Aneityum famers. Having only been able to access 14kg of vanilla last year, this year he is hopeful to be able to fulfill all his clients’ orders.
Witnessing the sales event, DARD Director Mr. Antoine Ravo stated, “on behalf of the Ministry of Agriculture, we would like to thank you all, especially the buyers for your support to our small farmers. DARD will continue to support your contribution to the sector and will continue to engage with you through the field assistants, DOI, VSP, so that together we can enable our small farmers build on their potential and enhance their capacity in increasing their productivity”.
VSP Director, Fremden Yanhambath, reiterated VSP’s support of the successful initiative. “The Partnership, and through it, the Australian Government, will continue to support key government priorities. This is a success story for VSP and its partners, DOI and DARD. It has taken more than three years working with these farmers. It is rewarding to now witness Aneityum Vanilla farmers increase their production quantity and we will continue to respond to this demand by supporting the transfer of required skills to farmers so they can produce high quality product for the export markets”.
DOI Director, Mr. Jimmy Rantes, congratulated the partners and confirmed DOI’s support through funding. “This successful exercise demonstrates the whole rationale behind trade policy. The policy directive for high-valued crops like vanilla is to venture into niche market exports. DOI, in partnership with DARD and VSP, is putting forward a funding mechanism to support processing and value adding under the industry development fund. Commencing in 2021, we will issue a call via the media for expressions of interest from exporters and the private sector to apply for support in market explorations, infrastructure, and equipment procurement. Government, through Parliament, has appropriated 150 million vatu to support small industries in 2021 and this will be a big part of our economic recovery”.
Earnings from the sales of vanilla will be directly injected into the local economy. Each of the farmers will receive their earnings via a cash transfer with the Vanuatu Post’s Kwik Cash Money transfer service.