The Vanilla Connection

An Indonesian farmer connects to the U.S. market

The delicate procedure must be performed at the precise moment a flower blooms.

In Indonesia, vanilla farmer Agustinus Daka uses a toothpick to pollinate each orchid on his farm by hand. About nine months later, he returns to pick the vanilla beans that have matured on the vine. No insect here naturally pollinates the flower, which originates from Central America.

Hands working with a vanilla plant
A man looks through the leaves of vanilla plants
A man sits in a room and works with his machete

Each morning, the 61-year-old farmer sharpens his machete to prepare for the day. He uses the blade to prune trees that provide shade to his flowering vanilla vines.

A close up of hands holding a machete

Beyond Subsistence

Agustinus, who goes by Agus, is the leader of a small group of vanilla bean farmers in his village in Papua, an isolated province with Indonesia’s highest poverty rate. Here, most farmers only grow crops for their families to eat.

“I want my village to move beyond subsistence,” Agus said.

Several men work among vanilla plants

With USAID support, Cooperative Business International (CBI) established a global supply market for Indonesia’s vanilla and helped farmers rehabilitate abandoned vanilla farms and establish new ones.

Agus’s income doubled in two years.

Hands holding a bunch of fresh vanilla beans
Hands harvesting vanilla beans with scissors

Agus works with his 20-year-old son, Wilson, to plant cuttings of a vanilla bean plant to expand his farm.

Two men crouch on the ground, working with vanilla beans
Two men work in a thick growth of trees

After Agus harvests the beans, he sells them to a cooperative, where they are dried, the first step in a supply chain that sends his crop to the U.S. and around the world.

“I am proud that my product is being exported to America,” he said.

Two fists full of dried vanilla beans
Four men work with a tub full of dried vanilla beans

From Farm to Factory

The beans are transported to a spice factory in Klaten — a city on another Indonesian island about 1,900 miles away.

Here, Sam Filiaci, CBI’s senior vice president for Southeast Asia, monitors operations with Eko Rahayu Sutanti, factory manager, and Uning Imbi Purnaning Dewandari, deputy factory manager.

People smell dried vanilla beans in a factory
Hands holding a bunch of factory-process vanilla beans
Framed pictures hang on a wall

Made in America

The factory uses equipment imported from New York, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana and Kansas. Meanwhile, Agus’s vanilla ends up in American grocery stores; it’s used in McCormick’s vanilla extract and Costco’s vanilla ice cream.

“Even though we talk about the 700 people working in this facility, the employment that it creates in the United States or the destination market is even greater,” Sam said.

Close up of factory equipment
Overview of a busy factory floor
Factory equipment
People smell dried vanilla beans on a factory floor

Sam is from upstate New York and has worked overseas for more than 40 years. He’s passionate about helping Indonesians improve their lives.

“Vanilla and these other high-value crops that we grow and produce are a tool,” Sam said. “They’re a tool to helping farmers educate their children, build their houses, get health care.”

Factory workers sit at a table, processing vanilla beans

With the income Agus earns from selling vanilla, he can afford better health care for his family — his 4-year-old granddaughter Juanita suffered a bout of malaria, and his wife Juliana, 50, has diabetes.

“Now, I have hope for a better life for my family,” he said.

A woman stands among thick trees

About This Story

Through CBI, USAID supports over 5,000 Indonesian small farmers who grow spices such as vanilla, pepper, cloves and nutmeg — and directly connects them with major global businesses, like Maryland-based McCormick & Company.

Farmers earn higher wages as a result of the partnership, and the spices contribute to McCormick’s growth and expansion.

In 1984, USAID and the National Cooperative Business Association (NCBA) established CBI Global, an industry leader that connects coffee and spice farmers to more than 160 companies in over 40 countries. USAID continues its partnership with McCormick and CBI as part of the Sustainable Cooperative Agribusiness Alliance, which started in 2017 and ends in 2020.

 

CBI’s Indonesia affiliate, PT AgriSpice Indonesia, is the region’s major spice processor and exporter and the global sourcing partner of McCormick in Indonesia. CBI partner Nimboran Kencana Coop works directly with spice farmers like Agus in Papua.

This program contributes to the U.S. Government’s Feed the Future initiative to combat global hunger.

Photos and video by Thomas Cristofoletti for USAID