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How Sepik vanilla farmers changed the vanilla world | By Allan Bird

In 2002 when Sepik Vanilla farmers came on the scene, the world didn’t know what to make of us.

It was as if a new mobile phone product or car model had entered the market. Most people dismissed us and were quite happy to use the Sepik Vanilla Farmers as a risk management strategy for Madagascar. We were simply insurance. That vanilla boom lasted 2 years and died out.

The latest vanilla boom is now into the third year and unlike the previous boom, prices are falling less rapidly and I decided to find out why.

Well it seems that after 100 years of vanilla business being done a certain way, the Sepik Vanilla Model has been adopted by the Madagascans! So now the vanilla prices are coming down slowly not rapidly like in early 2000.

The Sepik Vanilla business model is very simple, the farmer controls the beans and to a large extent the quality of the beans. In Madagascar, the farmer sells green beans to a processor who acts like a middleman and controls the quality and supply of beans. The farmer in Madagascar has no control unlike in Sepik.

Quite unknown to us, the Madagascan Vanilla Farmer has since learned about how Sepik Vanilla Farmers operate and they have decided to adopt the Sepik Vanilla Model. They now cure their own beans, just like in Sepik! They now control the beans supply and they are demanding better prices just like our farmers. They are also releasing beans slowly onto the market just like our farmers.

Thanks to this new development, Sepik Vanilla is no longer just insurance, many vanilla users the world over have decided to change their recipes and keep using Sepik Vanilla. This is great news for Sepik and for PNG. We will have a ready market for our produce for a very long time, hopefully the next 100 years. We are no longer a vanilla insurance policy for the world.

There is another new development in the Vanilla Market, one of the decisions that we have taken in the past has meant that we are now a specialised producer of Tahitensis Vanilla, not Planifolia. This makes us the largest producer of Tahitensis Vanilla in the world. Madagascar produces Planifolia.

I want to put on record how proud I am of the Sepik Vanilla Farmers and the exporters who have stayed loyal to the industry over the last 15 years. With no government support, no research support, no extension officers, just exporters and village based farmers, our village people, the key drivers of this industry, have put PNG on the map. Cocoa, Coffee and Copra with all of the research and government support have never even come close to what Sepik Vanilla Farmers have achieved.

Well done Sepik Vanilla! Sepik and proud of it!

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