The Cook Islands' Agriculture Minister says farmers in the country can make a lot of money from selling vanilla.
Kiriau Turepu says the Ministry is developing the vanilla industry by encouraging more women to get involved.
He told Beverley Tse during a visit to Mauke, that farmers can fetch up to about US$35 a kilo for high-quality beans.
BEVERLEY TSE: In a quarter of an acre, if you build your house in a corner, you can easily use the rest of the land, half of that piece for a little bit of vanilla under the shadehouse. For me, I'm looking at that possibility and encouraging people to do this, because even a 50m2 unit - 500m2 for the house, 500m2 for vanilla - you can earn a lot of money from that 500m2. Just vanilla alone. You can earn a lot of money. Have you found anyone interested in getting involved with vanilla growing?
KIRIAU TUREPU: Yes, we have actually two plots on Rarotonga. It's a pilot crop. And they are loaded with beans. And this is where we are guided in our quest to improve agriculture. In fact, the mayor here on Mauke and also one of the lady mayoral councillors have been there, they saw the unit. They were very impressed. For me, one thing is to convince people that there is an opportunity there and you can see it with your own eyes. And then it's up to you to make the decision.
BT: Have you found a market for Rarotonga vanilla?
KT: Well, let me say this, the key to the whole thing is, if you can produce organically grown vanilla I think you have a place on the market. And, again, if you look at us, it's so small compared to the bigger countries. Sometimes the market price goes up because those countries are very vulnerable to natural disasters, like hurricane and cyclone and all that. For me, I believe because if you process vanilla, you store it, you have an opportunity there. When the market price goes up then you have a chance to take your own share from the market.
BT: So currently there are two vanilla growers on Rarotonga.
KT: There are many vanilla growers, but I use these two growers as an example for people to look at. I take other islands there to look at it. I say to them 'We can help you, as a government, set up these things'. But the thing is women, I always believe, are the better workers than men. Not physically, out in the open, but in a unit that is controlled, I believe women in the other islands can help this development.
BT: So at what stage are these two vanilla growers who are in your sample at?
KT: The units are now two years old and they're already starting to dry their beans. And for me that's fast. And you don't have to wait that long in order for you to make some money.
Kiriau Turepu says there is demand for Cook Islands vanilla in New Zealand and a Tahitian businessman has offered to help with supplying to the markets.