Real Vanilla

The vanilla farmers need us to keep it REAL..!

02nd Feb 2024

LittlePod’s pioneering vanilla plantation is aiding rainforest regeneration in Indonesia. We met a man with a passion for polyculture.

Did you know...?

In October 2023, we celebrated International Real Vanilla Day with our farmers in Indonesia

Last October, we took a trip to Indonesia to meet the vanilla farmers at LittlePod’s collaborative orchard in Bali. We met some fascinating people in the process – none more so than Eka Putra, who leads the marketing and sales operation for our production partners who cure the vanilla pods from our plantation on the island. During a visit to meet one of our farmers, Paul – LittlePod’s Media Manager – took time out amongst the trees to get an insight into Eka’s endeavours and the things that drive his quest to protect the Indonesian rainforest. These are his words…

Talking to Eka about supporting the vanilla farmers and aiding rainforest regeneration in Indonesia

There was once a huge rainforest in Indonesia. Then industrialisation happened and nowadays there’s so much less. Mining, palm oil production and illegal logging have done so much damage to our environment and things could get worse. We still have one of the largest rainforests in the world, but it’s under threat and we need to do everything that we can to protect it.

I’m passionate about restoring our rainforests and, working alongside Syriaz, I’ve done lots of research during the last few years. We’ve studied forests in Kalimantan and Sumatra and here in Bali. We’re inspired by the relationships that people still have with the forests and what they’re doing to protect and improve the environment. We have learnt so much and we understand the difficulties that are involved. But it’s important to tackle this issue, even if it is difficult, before it’s too late.

In 2017, there was a huge landfill fire in Indonesia. It spread and caused forest fires that did so much damage. The smoke from those fires made it to Singapore and to Malaysia and to Thailand, causing smog right across the region. That’s when I first began to take an interest in these matters. Indonesia has experienced lots of disasters such as this one. It’s obvious that we all need to do more to protect our remaining forests. It is that need that brought us to Bali a couple of years ago.

Syriaz and I came to Bali looking for role models. We found them in Made and Ketut. It can sometimes be difficult trying to establish a connection between the people and the forests but Made and Ketut have done that and have great social and cultural capital here in Bali. They’ve got such strong connections with nature and the environment and they understand how to protect the forests here. They’re inspirational people who are keen to teach younger people such as ourselves how to protect Indonesia’s rainforests and we’ve learnt so much from them. We want to take these lessons and use them to help to protect and restore the rainforests that are at risk in Indonesia. I’m proud of what we’ve achieved, but there’s still much to do.

There are a lot of problems here, but vanilla can be the answer to them. Vanilla can be crucial to increasing the social capital of the farmers working amongst the rainforest communities and that could be the key. The farmers in Indonesia have needs, like everybody, whether that’s trying to build a house or paying for their children to go to school or just buying food on a daily basis. Healthcare isn’t great in Indonesia and it’s not cheap and there are often hospital bills to pay. The farmers have costs and need a stable income. Where does that come from?

We have a plan. Look at the landscape here in Bali. Look at the soil. This is a huge advantage for Indonesia. It means that we can grow great vanilla. Vanilla has a high price around the world and the polyculture system that Made has implemented at the LittlePod orchard has huge benefits for the vanilla farmers. Growing different crops together in the forest gives the vanilla farmers a stable income for their daily needs. Vanilla provides a much higher income for life in the long term and means the farmers can make projections on a daily, monthly and yearly basis. It is Made’s polyculture system that makes things achievable and affordable. It gives possibilities, makes life more stable and helps the vanilla farmers and to address their problems. This strengthens the connection between the people and the forest – providing the social capital to protect the environment. I think vanilla is the answer.

I have to be honest, I didn’t know much about vanilla until I started doing this. Nothing at all. I had no idea. This might sound strange given that vanilla grows here, but people in Indonesia don’t use it all that much. Most people here don’t cook with it. Most people are not familiar with it and that’s where I was up until a couple of years ago. I didn’t even know about the vanilla orchid until I met Made and Ketut, but I have learnt so much since then. It isn’t just in the West that people use artificial vanilla. Even here in Indonesia, this is what’s often used to make our ice creams. This needs to change and I hope the work that we’re doing, connecting the people and the forests and using vanilla to provide a stable income for the farming communities, can help us to make that change.

In order to achieve change, we need partners and good people to work with beyond Bali and outside Indonesia. This is where LittlePod comes in. The main markets for vanilla are in the West, in the UK, Europe and the US. Having this connection with a company like LittlePod is crucial to the work we’re doing in Indonesia. What is important is that the people and companies we work with have the same values as we do and it is quite clear that LittlePod share all our beliefs. We care about the vanilla farmers, about sustainability, about the environment and how to protect and restore the rainforests. LittlePod have these same ambitions and qualities and I know that working together, we can make a difference to the world.

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