A Short History of the Tahitian Vanilla Project
During the spring of 2018, Michael and Geomar of Royal Cacao met with a community of farmers and small plantation owners growing a variety of crops such as cocoa beans, corn, cattle, pigs, plantains, and local fruits. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the introduction of a new crop—Tahitian vanilla.
So, what would be the point of adding yet another crop to the diverse products produced here at Manga del Cura? The reason is that of the products currently being produced by these farmers sell to local wholesale buyers at non-livable prices. For example, when the farmer sells their 100-pound sack of cocoa beans, they might get 80¢ per pound.
Royal Cacao would like to change that significantly. It's reasonable that the vanilla project could change this. So, rather than selling one pound of cacao beans for 80¢ they could reasonably sell one pound of vanilla beans for between $300–$500 per pound depending on the specific buyer. This difference can be life-changing not only for these entrepreneurs but also their community.
Within the group participating in this startup business are a combination of small farmers, a local business leader, and a local agricultural engineer for a total of about 12 individuals. Each of these members participates hands-on—currently, with their very scarce resources, they have pulled enough cash together to build a starter greenhouse which they designed and built themselves.
A Busy Year Getting Ready
Geomar made many update visits during 2018 for land selection, discussion about the greenhouse design and what materials were affordable and available. Also, the entire group visited our Tahitian vanilla greenhouse in Esmeraldas, Ecuador to see the complete setup and to ask the many technical questions before committing to the project for themselves. The trip to our greenhouse was a success. The group spent the entire day asking questions about greenhouse construction, plant distance, watering, flowering, pollination, growing materials, growing options, and much more. After the visit, we went to the city of Esmeraldas huddled in the back of two old pickup trucks and we had lunch on the boardwalk by the ocean and chatted some more.
This January 2019, Geomar met with the community to follow up on their progress and to see the completed greenhouse, now ready for planting the starter Tahitian vanilla vines. His visit started with a meeting with the community at their agricultural center and then proceeded to the new greenhouse deep in the forest.
Planting the Tahitian Vanilla
With the greenhouse ready and drainage ditches in place, the next step is to plant the Tahitian vanilla vines. We have received many generous donations to help buy several dozen start vines. We will purchase the vines and donate some of our own in February. After planting the vines, the vanilla will need about 16–24 months to produce the first flower—we are hoping that using some special techniques that we can coax out the flowers in 16 months.
The flowers last about 5 hours and bloom for only one morning and need to be hand pollinated. It will take nine months for the bean to mature and be harvested. Then, it will take another 4–6 months to ferment, dry, and prepare for shipment.
All donations are accepted and will help buy new vines or purchase materials for running the greenhouse. Use the button below to visit our GoFundMe page if you are so inspired.