Real Vanilla

‘Eat a great ice cream and make a REAL difference…!’

19th Oct 2023

We’ve met some fascinating people in Bali this week, none more so than Muhammad Syirazi. The COO of LittlePod’s production partners in Indonesia, he told Paul about his passion for REAL vanilla and all things ecological.

Did you know..?

Indonesian vanilla pods grown at the LittlePod plantation in Bali are available to order via our online shop!

Muhammad Syirazi – Syiraz – is an impressive character. Since meeting him for the first time in Indonesia on Monday, our admiration for the young man spearheading operations for Conservana Spices – our production partners, who look after the LittlePod orchard in Bali has grown as we’ve spent longer in his presence and got to know him better. Perched on a wooden crate at the state-of-the-art processing facility that he has helped to establish, Syiraz told Paul he feels a deep affinity with LittlePod and our Campaign for Real Vanilla. These are his words…

Everything that we’re trying to do here in Bali is based on our three main values. Number one is purity of intention, number two is imagination and number three is always doing it happy. We see these values in the forest farming communities and I’ve seen them this week in LittlePod and in Janet. Her intentions are pure, she has great imagination and she’s always happy. We share all the same values and that’s why we can achieve so much and work so well together.

I’ve been passionate about the environment ever since I was a little boy. When I was in High School, I joined a hiking club and walked everywhere there is to walk around Indonesia. The mountains of Java. Bali. Lombok. I decided then that the career I would have would need to involve travelling around, seeing places and spending time outdoors. I’ve spent a lot of time in the forest, learning about agriculture and getting to know the farming communities. Not everything that I have seen has been good.

Even in a short space of time, I’ve seen the environment change and that terrifies me. The mountains of Indonesia are changing, there are more forest fires and it’s hotter for longer each year. I’ve seen Indonesia changing before my eyes and I don’t like it. When we had our daughter, everything changed for me and I had to act.

The changes have been so great that I realised that unless we do something immediately, my daughter will not get to see the mountains as I once saw them as a boy. When my wife got pregnant, I told her that everything that I do from this point on will be to help fight climate change. I want my daughter to have the same experiences that I had growing up. Unless we make a change, that will not happen.

I don’t like the term ‘sustainability’. We shouldn’t be trying to sustain what we have now, we should be aiming to restore things to their best version. We were talking about sustainability back in the 1980s, but here we are now, in 2023, still degrading the forest. Deforestation is everywhere and we have to restore, not sustain.

Like LittlePod, I love real vanilla. It has a huge ecological value. In order to grow, it needs cover, which means not chopping down the big trees. If we encourage the farmers to keep growing vanilla – and find a market for their products – the forest communities will leave the big trees alone because there’s great value in preserving that environment. Vanilla has great power. People are starting to realise that at last.

I don’t know why people keep telling us that growing vanilla is difficult. It’s the laziest form of farming that there is. You don’t have to do a lot to grow vanilla because the forest does it all for you. It provides cover, shade and support. It improves the soil and helps water retention. It even provides fertilisation. I always joke with the vanilla farmers and tell them that they’re lazy. Yes, you have to do the hand-pollination, but for the rest of the time? This is the future of farming that I imagine for my children.

I’ve learnt such a lot from working with Made and Ketut. When I first met Made I thought he was like a lecturer. He has so much knowledge and great passion for this project. I’m also learning from the forest communities and I want to gather as much information as I can, put it to good use and help to make a difference. There’s no-one else doing this in Bali. Working together, we have the power to generate change.

I like to tell my daughter that she can help to make a difference just by eating an ice cream. She’s fascinated with vanilla and can’t understand how something so black – a vanilla pod – can be used to make something so white – vanilla ice cream! I tell her that all she needs to understand is that by eating a good quality ice cream, made using vanilla from a conservation forest, she is helping the environment. She has come to understand this and I think that this would be my message to everybody.

You don’t have to be like me, becoming a forester and living it 9-5. You just need to think about the choices you make and the little things that you can do to help make a difference. That’s what we’re doing in Bali, what LittlePod is doing in the UK and what we’re doing together. We just need to keep going, we can drive that change.

LittlePod has high standards and so do we in Bali. We share those standards and we share the same values and I have no doubt that our relationship will continue to grow and grow. It has been great to see the LittlePod team in Bali this week and like everyone who is working here, I’m feeling very positive about our future together.

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