The Small Scale Farmer in the Amazon Ecosystem
Rosita, Efrain, and Leonardo are part of a small-scale vanilla growing community in the Amazon Basin struggling to bring prosperity to their community. Rosita had gotten vanilla vines 10 years ago but had no advice on how to grow them. They propagated those vines and now have 200 vines. They are so remote and disconnected from regular commerce, the only buyers they can find to purchase their vanilla is a chocolate company that pays a small fraction of the real value of their crop.
Their vanilla production is very inefficient. The vines don’t flower often, heavy rains make it hard to pollinate, production is just a few pounds of vanilla beans per year, and what little they produce are sold for a price so low it doesn’t even pay to take care of the vines. Because discouragement runs high, they just let the vanilla grow as they may, and if they get a few to flower, they take what comes.
Searching for a solution to this tenuous situation, Rosita sent a short message to us trying to make a connection for advice or even some type of support. We, the pioneers of the Amazonia Vanilla Company started chatting with Rosita on social media and found ourselves invited to her farm in the Amazon Basin. Within the week, we were able to make the visit and see if there was some way we might be able to help.
We started our drive to visit Rosita from the 13,000 feet above sea level from the Andean spine of South America. We descended into the pristine Amazon Basin which starts at 900 feet above sea level and continues for the next 3000 miles as it meanders lazily into the Atlantic.
This exotic basin is being cleared by timber buyers, gold diggers, and petroleum drillers. In desperation, farmers and local communities clear their lands attempting to grown corn and pasture cattle with meager profits. The travesty is that the farmers ultimately sell their precious land rights and the dense biodiverse jungles are turned into a monoculture in just a few short years.
The Amazonia Vanilla Company works directly with and understands the hardships of hard-working rural farmers and their communities who have little resources and are frequently taken advantage of. They want a dignified and decent life and they love their wild frontier. If only, there was a way to empower these communities to prosper and support their environment at the same time.
After the long drive, we met with Rosita, Efrain, and Leonardo and explained our dream of helping communities to raise and cure vanilla and develop a reliable source of income while committing to conserving the rainforest canopy—this excited all three growers.
We shared some management techniques that could help their plants immediately—these suggestions were to provide more consistent shade, clean away material that attracts fungus, and use organic pest repellents and trim. These initial small changes will help the vanilla grow healthier and will get some good early results. Future visits will help to increase production, improve biodiversity, and introduce a collaborative trading model.
Amazonia Vanilla believes in co-investing. It brings experience, local, international, and involves the farmer as an owner in the adding value, not just growing and selling to middlemen.
We began collaborating and investing with small producers in the Amazon in early 2020, and in exchange, each producer will adhere to preservation and restoration of the rainforest to be a certified supplier and owner of The Amazonia Vanilla Company.