Our Vava’u Tonga Vanilla program started in March 2013, as small project to help re-establish a small number of vanilla gardens in Vava’u. Soon after announcing the project, we discovered such a great passion and interest from the Tongan Vanilla growers for their vanilla farms that we were inspired to develop a world-first vanilla assistance program in Vava’u – one of the world’s largest rehabilitation programs. The ultimate goal is to assist the Tongan industry to become sustainable now and into future and to bring this premium quality vanilla back to the market.
Shortly after the program commenced, we helped to form the Vanilla Growers Association of Vava’u (VGA). Established to unite the industry and ensure growers receive support and knowledge to grow world-class vanilla, it also means that Tongan vanilla is run by the Tongan growers with Queen playing an assisting and educating role. Today this association is made up of more than 300 vanilla growing members, all of whom rely on production of vanilla for their livelihoods.
With their Vanilla gardens laying dormant for many years, Queen helped farmers in a number of ways to prepare for their first season of vanilla. In addition, Queen provided funding and created a tool library for farmers to use and also shared knowledge and training on the best practices for growing, pollinating, harvesting and curing their vanilla beans.
Working with the VGA, Queen funded curing facilities to assist farmers in achieving a higher dollar return for their vanilla bean crops. Subsequently, the Fairtrade organisation has observed the benefits and endorsed this producer innovation and have funded these curing facilities via their producer development scheme. By curing their own beans, growers are able to achieve a much higher price per kilo and have more control for their crops than ever before. As the most important step in the production process, curing is where vanilla beans transform from flavourless green beans into those prized for their wonderful aromatic flavour. This is an important step in helping the program become sustainable for the future.
The first Vanilla Beans from the program were transformed into the Queen Finest Single Origin Vanilla Extract, Vava’u Tonga. Launched in late 2014, this premium gourmet Vanilla extract with seeds has a full-bodied bourbon vanilla profile with a hint of chocolaty aroma, ideal for all baking applications. Available in New Zealand and soon in Australia, future seasons of Vanilla beans from the Queen Vava’u Vanilla program will be celebrated in this Extract.
More recently the efforts of the VGA and Queen have resulted in Vanilla from the VGA being certified Organic and Fairtrade by Fairtrade Australia New Zealand. This certification ensures growers receive a fair market price for their cured vanilla beans and sustainable working conditions while meeting the Fairtrade standards for social and environmental performance, as well as business accountability and transparency.
Today the Queen Vava’u Vanilla Program represents a direct relationship with nearly 200 vanilla farmers and over 1,400 members of their families. With more than 95 per cent of the once-dormant plantations in Tonga again producing vanilla, the future of premium Vava’u Vanilla is set to be sustainable for generations to come.