How often do we eat orchids? More often than we think, because vanilla, the queen of all spices, is the bean of a tropical orchid – Vanilla planifolia.
The rich aroma and iconic flavor are reason enough for vanilla to be the world’s most popular spice, since its introduction to the West in the 16th century.
This month, Ok Tedi Development Foundation hosted a vanilla and cocoa entrepreneur from South America who has the technical knowledge to improve the production and quality of vanilla beans in the Western Province.
Originally from the United States of America (USA) Mr. Gifford Dunlea Laube, has been involved in tropical agriculture for the last 20 years across South America as a consultant and growing his own vanilla and cocoa.
This is his second visit to PNG as part of the Innovative Agro Industry (IAI) agriculture development program in the province.
His visit marks the rollout of the WestAgro Master Plan which was endorsed by the OTDF Board and supported by the Fly River Provincial Government.
He visited cooperative vanilla blocks in Nomad and the few remaining smallholder vines in villages along the Tabubil Kiunga Highway (remnants from the OTML distribution in 2008).
Visiting these farmers to see their blocks has boosted their morale and is inspiring many others to become vanilla farmers again.
Through WestAgro OTDF and IAI can assure farmers that all services, processing and marketing functions will be performed in Kiunga.
He said what he saw was very promising and that Nomad farmers cultivation practices were world class and he was delighted to see the highly sought-after hybrid vanilla species known as ‘Tahitiensis’ being grown.
“I had a great day visiting the community in the Nomad region. I am now confident of filling the Samagos nursery with vanilla cuttings to support small holders allot quicker than originally anticipated”.”
“The techniques and material used to plant vanilla vines determine their growth, while the care given determines the bean size and quality, not to mention mastering pollination and bean curing and drying techniques”, he said.
These are very exciting developments and it is now hoped that smallholder distribution may begin within 12 months as opposed to the 2 years initially expected.
As he explained “the vanilla beans are the product of the world’s only fruit-producing orchid – Vanilla planifolia – and just like their domestic flowering cousins, they require specific growing conditions and plenty of care to propagate.”
Mr. Lube said a tropical climate, like that of its native Central America (Mexico) is vital, fortunately you have this very climate here in the North Fly along with the much sought after Tahitiensis variety.
He said in nature, pollination requires a visit from a melipona bee or long beaked hummingbird, but a discovery made by Edmond Albius in the 19th century, showed that this process could be replicated by hand.
From flower pollination to harvesting and a lengthy curing process, every stage of vanilla bean production needs to be completed by hand, making it an ideal crop for rural family farmers.