Global Programs

Meet Ibu Nurhayati, an emerging vanilla farmer and entrepreneur in South Sulawesi

Working with NCBA CLUSA’s USDA-funded Indonesia Spice Trade Alliance project, Ibu Nurhayati and her neighbor farmers are working together to practice sustainable agriculture by diversifying their tree crops with vanilla. 

Vanilla is a promising agricultural crop and an export commodity with excellent prices. Producing vanilla is relatively easy—especially in Tana Toraja, South Sulawesi, where favorable geographic and climatic conditions are perfect for vanilla propagation.

Vanilla has been produced in Tana Toraja for many years by older farmers who successfully produced vanilla as long as 25 years ago. However, these successful farmers aged over time, and their sons and daughters moved to the cities and chose not to farm. Further, vanilla’s local and international prices declined drastically after 2007, and the crop was largely discontinued. In 2017, prices rose again, and vanilla production returned.

Ibu Nurhayati lives in the village of Salubarani, Gandang Batu Silanan, Tana Toraja, South Sulawesi, where she and her neighbor farmers produce tree crop commodities, including coconut, banana, clove and cocoa in a mixed agroforestry pattern in the hilly areas of Tana Toraja district. In 2018, Nurhayati decided to plant and grow vanilla again, after many seasons of not producing due to low prices. Initially, Nurhayati invited just a few of her family members and neighbors to plant vanilla again. Many refused, noting the difficulty in finding seedlings and questioning where to sell the beans at harvest time. So Nurhayati began to search for good vanilla cuttings throughout South Sulawesi province. When she secured some good vanilla cuttings, she provided them to her neighbor farmers for free. When the vanilla plants matured and were ready for harvest, she stored the neighbors’ harvested vanilla beans while searching for a suitable buyer.

Ibu Nurhayati knew about PUSPETA Luwu Cooperative in Palopo, South Sulawesi, and had previously sold crops such as cacao and clove to them. While searching for good vanilla cuttings for her neighbor farmers, the staff at PUSPETA Co-op informed her about a new project implemented by NCBA CLUSA, the Indonesia Spice Trade Alliance (ISTA) that started in 2021. With information about this new U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)-funded ISTA project, Ibu Nurhayati talked to her neighbor farmers and quickly formed them into farmers’ groups, ready to receive more information and training about planting and growing vanilla for the ISTA project. PUSPETA and the USDA ISTA project promote crop diversity with farmers integrating vanilla into their production systems, comprising 5-7 different food and tree crops. Farmers in Sulawesi, on average, farm on 1-2 hectares of land, of which vanilla would typically be planted on .25 hectares.

Through assistance provided by USDA ISTA, Nurhayati and her neighbor farmers were organized into farmer groups and received training in sustainable agriculture and diversified agroforestry, promoting good climate practice and income generation. Following training, they received high-quality vanilla cuttings to plant.

Through the USDA ISTA project, Ibu learned how to dry and cure green vanilla beans to meet international vanilla standards.

Learning from her father’s experience, Ibu Nurhayati urged her fellow vanilla farmers to watch and guard their vanilla plants, especially after flowering, manual pollination and the emergence of green vanilla beans to prevent theft, which had affected vanilla production in Sulawesi previously. She frequently met with her fellow vanilla farmers. She always urged them to maintain the quality of their vanilla to get the best prices and only to sell green vanilla beans 6-9 months after flowering and pollinating, not just a few months after flowering.

She also met and discussed vanilla bean production with buyers throughout Sulawesi, from Tana Toraja to Bulukumba, urging them to wait to buy farmers’ green vanilla beans. She encouraged her fellow vanilla farmers to photograph (on cell phones) any trader seeking to buy green vanilla beans too early and share their pictures with other farmers. Many times, after farmers refuse to sell young green vanilla beans to these buyers, theft of vanilla beans occurs. Ibu Nurhayati’s efforts to prevent early vanilla bean sales and photographing and sharing photos of unscrupulous buyers have resulted in very few vanilla bean thefts in Tana Toraja. A network of vanilla farmers has been established as a good communication vehicle, not only for security but also for extension, training, scheduling and other information. The vanilla farmers of Tana Toraja appreciate Ibu Nurhayati’s efforts very much.

Currently, Ibu Nurhayati is still farming vanilla on her family land of three hectares and is also a vanilla bean producer for PUSPETA Luwu Co-op. As a result of efforts undertaken by USDA ISTA and implementing partners, she studied and learned the drying and curing process for green vanilla beans as per international vanilla standards. Through her efforts and work with PUSPETA Luwu Co-op, PT AgriSpice and USDA ISTA, many Tana Toraja farmers are forming farmer groups and planting and cultivating vanilla. This includes Ibu Nurhayati’s farmer group, an all-women vanilla farmer group in Gandang Batu Silanan, Tana Toraja, South Sulawesi, Indonesia.

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