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.
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.
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.
With support from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), NCBA CLUSA and 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.
Agus works with his 20-year-old son, Wilson, to plant cuttings of a vanilla bean plant to expand his farm.
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.
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.
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 [in Indonesia], the employment that it creates in the United States or the destination market is even greater,” Filiaci said.
Filiaci is from upstate New York and has worked internationally for more than 40 years, many of them with NCBA CLUSA developing cooperatives in Southeast Asia. He’s passionate about helping Indonesians improve their lives.
“Vanilla and these other high-value crops that we grow and produce are a tool,” Filiaci said. “They’re a tool to help farmers educate their children, build their houses and get health care.”
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.
Through NCBA CLUSA and CBI, USAID supports more than 5,000 Indonesian small farmers who grow spices like 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 NCBA CLUSA 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 Co-op 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