Sweet vanilla perfume scented the warm summer morning at Maleua Farm in Makefu Village in Niue.
The woman dressed in white with a pretty hat topping off her ensemble spread out the ripened vanilla beans to dry on the veranda. Her gentleness with the vanilla pods revealed a reverence.
‘It’s going to bring me a lot of money,’ she gushed, her smile shining through the shadows the hat cast on her face.
Vanilla is a flavouring from orchids of the genus Vanilla. Maryanne Talagi has been planting them for four years. It is now time to harvest and earn an income from it.
Maryanne loves to farm. It is the way she keeps connected to the land as her grandparents taught her, all those years as a child farming with the family.
‘We grew up on family farming. We learnt from our grandparents and from that time farming has been in my heart,’ she said. ‘I enjoy watching my plants grow and working on the soil to make things grow. Whenever we grow things on the land we are connected to nature and we belong to land. That’s what we are given by our parents, and from the land we can make money, but we must also keep it for our children and pass it on as a gift.’
Maryanne hopes to make as much as NZD 500 per kilogram of vanilla beans. The vanilla vines cling to tall Gliricidia plants. They line at least a quarter of an acre of the farm. Its income, she says, will sustain her when she retires as the Librarian of the University of the South Pacific campus in Niue.
Maleua boasts more than just vanilla. The farm is a delicious fund of all kinds of tropical fruit trees, bananas, vegetables and root crops like tapioca. ‘First we must think of our own food and nutritional security before we make money,’ said Maryanne.
The main aim of the Niue Island Organic Farmers Association is to become a fully organic nation by 2010. As its chairperson, Maryanne is leading a team of organic farmers to combat the use of chemicals and help farmers deal with climate change.
‘The weather is changing; it’s not the same anymore and we need to be able to help our farmers have access to information that can assist them,’ she said.
The other big challenge that needs tackling is non-communicable diseases brought on by poor dietary habits. ‘The solution is to get more Niueans farming and maintaining their connection to the land, because if they are planting their own nutritious food, they won’t be so dependent on processed foods,’ advised Maryanne.
The Association was formed in 2003 by vanilla grower Rauru Vakaafi. Its members have third party certification with BioGro New Zealand and have played a key role in the setup of POETCom, the Pacific Organic and Ethical Trade Community.