From Indonesia to Your Holiday Table

December 19, 2019 By Sung Lee

Did you know that the vanilla we use in everything from ice cream to beauty products to baked goods, particularly during the holiday season, is mainly produced in just a few developing countries?  The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is helping farmers to build a sustainable vanilla industry while benefiting U.S. businesses and consumers alike.

An Indonesian Farmer Supporting U.S. Businesses

Vanilla is one of the hardest and most labor-intensive crops to grow, as it does not have a natural pollinator. Agustinus Daka, a vanilla farmer living in Indonesia’s poorest province, uses a toothpick to pollinate each delicate vanilla orchid by hand and cultivates them for nine months. It’s not surprising that vanilla is the second most expensive spice at grocery stories! He then sells his vanilla beans to Cooperative Business International (CBI), a Westerville, Ohio-based company established with support from USAID and the National Cooperative Business Association in 1984, to help farmers like Agustinus reach U.S. markets. Today, his vanilla is used to produce vanilla extract for Maryland-based McCormick & Company and vanilla ice cream for Washington-based Costco – two American businesses that support hundreds of thousands of jobs across the United States.

“I am proud that my product is being exported to America,” said Agustinus. With USAID support, he has been able to double his income over the past two years and uses extra income to provide better education and health care for his family. In fact, the partnership has enabled over 15,000 small farmers to produce high-value crops like vanilla, helping Indonesia become the second largest exporter of vanilla and furthering the country’s journey to become more self-reliant.

Supporting Indonesia’s Journey to Self-Reliance

“What this industry does for Indonesia is not just economic development. The spice processing is not just creating jobs. It’s helping Indonesia and Indonesians continue along a very positive national development trajectory,” said USAID Deputy Administrator Bonnie Glick during a recent visit to Indonesia.

USAID’s programs in Indonesia have a proven track record of success, enabling farmers like Agustinus to gain access to necessary tools and markets and helping to lift themselves out of poverty. Since 1999, Indonesia’s poverty rate has been cut in half, and its economy has steadily increased by over 5 percent per year— transforming the nation into a regional economic leader and America’s strategic ally. This, in turn, has created more opportunities for American businesses, with exports to Indonesia increasing by nearly 50 percent to $8.2 billion over the past ten years and supporting more than 56,000 jobs.

As families will soon come together to share a meal or vanilla desserts in this holiday season, let’s think of the farmers like Agustinus as well as hundreds of American diplomats and development professionals that work side by side to create a better, safer, and more prosperous world.