If development work is focused exclusively on keystone activities, more good can be achieved in less time with fewer resources. Funneling the MMRF mission statement through the keystone activities filter led us to our Vanilla Project.
The goal of our Vanilla Project is to establish an organic vanilla industry here in Toledo District. In so doing we aim to empower women, strengthen food security, maintain the viability of a village lifestyle, and promote a form of agriculture that provides ecological services, all while increasing the income level of small farmers in Toledo.
Activities to Date
–In September of 2005 MMRF established an ex situ wild vanilla gene bank of 250 vines and began keeping growth records on them. This, along with literature review, and site visits to a vanilla plantation in Mexico and a vanilla co-operative in Guatemala propelled us to the next stage.
–In August of 2007, MMRF launched an on-the-ground feasibility/pilot project for vanilla cultivation with area farmers. In order to have the most broad reaching effect and pool from which to draw inferences, MMRF’s feasibility/pilot project targeted a group of Toledo farmers with high diversity in regards to age, gender, ethnicity and geographic distribution.
–In September of 2010, we started harvesting our first crop of vanilla beans!
–In 2012, we distributed more vanilla to area farmers.
–The success of this project, and the enthusiasm it generated were so high, that in December of 2007, the farmers involved in the project decided to form and register the Organic Vanilla Association (OVA).
The production of vanilla fruits (called beans) entails the hand-pollination of each vanilla flower. The resulting bean must remain 9 months on the vine to reach full maturity. At the time of harvest, vanillin, vanilla’s primary flavor component, is not yet present but develops in the beans during the curing process which is comprised of scalding, sunning/sweating, drying, and conditioning. This curing process can take up to 9 months to complete, and in most countries is done in a centralized curing facility. The majority of the world’s vanilla is produced in Madagascar, Indonesia, Uganda, Mexico and Papua New Guinea and consumed by the U.S., France and other European countries. The world market price for vanilla fluctuates, and is currently at a low point of US$40 per kilo for top grade cured vanilla beans, which is still higher than any other legal exportable agricultural commodity currently produced in Belize. In 2003 vanilla prices skyrocketed to US$500 per kilo. There are approximately 175-275 beans in a kilo.