Farmers ready to step up
PR - Faiumu Faimafili Notoa from Taga Savai’i is over the moon with the new lifeline thrown by government to keep his family’s hopes alive with the reassurance that there is money to be made in vanilla farming.
“We’ve been laboring the land for over 30 years but have slowly lost faith in recent years as a result of the dwindling number in export markets for my organic vanilla ,” said the 62 year old Faiumu- crowned the best vanilla farmer in Samoa in the last six consecutive annually government funded Agricultural Show.
“Financially, we are barely surviving with the family living off our merger income from coffee, cocoa and taro sales since our vanilla outlets collapsed.
“I kid you not, before we had planted over 50 acres with vanilla, coffee and coconuts when the markets were aplenty.
“Now, we are only planting just enough to cater for our daily needs and meet our regular orders from our outlets in Apia, which are mostly hotels and Lyn’s Store at Motootua.”
But government has stepped at the insistence of Prime Minister Tuilaepa Lupesoliai Sailele Malielegaoi that vanilla exports is screaming for attention because it offers a lucrative income for local farmers.
To that effect, a scoping visit organised by the Samoa Estate Corporation, (STEC) the Ministry of Prime Minister and Cabinet, (MPMC), the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Labour (MCIL) and the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries is giving Faiumu, his wife Faiesea their children and grandchildren a massive dose of hope injection.
“We’re not asking for a hand-out,” says Mrs Faiesea Faiumu Notoa. “My family has survived from the fruits of our hard labour and we’re thankful to the almighty.
“But we desperately need help when it comes to marketing and of course meeting the requirements for our locally grown organic vanilla to secure a foothold in the commercial export arena. “We understand that some of the requirements are quite rigorous but as farmers for decades we also have a lot of experience.
“I am beyond thankful that government has taken notice by resurrecting the interest in vanilla farming with the appropriate government thinking tanks taking the lead in securing overseas markets for us.”
Mrs Notoa, is of course referring to the Equagold Vanilla Company’s brainchild’s; Ross and Diane Appleton who left their comfort zone in Auckland New Zealand to take up the government’s invite to come to Samoa and lend their expertise to boost the locally initiated drive to bring back to life Samoa’s vanilla farming. “I can understand their frustrations after meeting with the farmers and visiting vanilla farms,” added Mr Appleton. “There is huge potential in Samoa vanilla and rest assured when we say that Equagold stands ready to be a new export partner for Samoa’s vanilla.
“Of course, there is a lot of work that needs to be done and from what we have witnessed for the export drive to realise its target, leadership is a crucial component.”
To stimulate the local farmers’ attention in growing vanilla, Appleton highlighted the pros and cons of the industry and what farmers can expect.
“Just last year, we sold 95.000 packets of vanilla pods into Australia.
“We are in contact with clients from the United States and Europe trying to find vanilla sellers. We are talking about a demand for approximately 15 tons for the next six months.
“Market prices for vanilla at the moment are in the neighborhood of NZ$200 dollars a kilo.”
What sounds easy at first glance is indeed a protracted process for the farmers.
“The process of growing vanilla can take up to three years to come into production. Growers need to be committed for the long term and must be realistic about the current market prices,” Mr. Appleton said.
And Samoa’s Auckland based Trade Commissioner; Fonoti Dr Lafitai Iupati Fuatai is urging vanilla farmers for patience.
“I am mindful that in any investment, the commercial element plays a decisive leading role,” says Fonoti. “But money should be secondary as most successful investment takes years of tolerant, trials and tribulations.
“Having Equagold, a company with integrity working with government is an asset and we need to capitalize on these rare opportunities that will eventually see our vanilla farmers, their families and our Gross Domestic Product reaping the fruits.”
For the Faiumu’s he is now praying that government will deliver a pathway that will open the gateways for vanilla farmers like himself to reap the fruits of their hard labour and of course be part of the a solution and not a nuisance.