Maryanne Talagi grows vanilla on a farm in Niue Island, she tells us how farming is not only a legacy she will pass on to the next generation but it’s also a trigger to empower her community and deal with today’s social and environmental challenges.
In Niue, an island nation in the South Pacific Ocean, the scent of sweet vanilla can be perceived by Maryanne Talagi while she spreads out ripened vanilla bean to dry. The Maleua Farm in Makefu Village is known for its orchids from which Maryanne extracts Vanilla.
‘It’s going to bring me a lot of money,’– Maryanne is thrilled, her smile shines through the shadow of her hat. Vanilla is a flavouring from orchids of the genus Vanilla. The vanilla vines cling to tall Gliricidia plants. They line about a quarter of an acre of the farm. Maryanne has been planting and tending Vanilla orchids for four years. Now it’s 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. This is not her main activity, though. She is a librarian at the University of the South Pacific campus in Niue, but her connection to the land and the legacy of her ancestors is still vivid. ‘We grew up on a family farm. We learned from our grandparents and from that time farming has been in my heart,’ she said. Maryanne hopes to make as much as NZD 500 per kilogram of organic vanilla beans (around 316 USD). Its income, she says, will sustain her when she retires from her current job.
Growing food, improving nutrition
The Maleua Farm grows more than just vanilla. The farm is a delicious blend of all kinds of tropical fruit trees, bananas, vegetables and root crops like tapioca. ‘We must think first of our own food and nutritional security before we make money,’ said Maryanne.
She also leads a team of organic farmers within the Niue Island Organic Farmers Association to eliminate the use of chemicals and help the residents deal with climate change. ‘The weather is changing; it’s not the same anymore and we need to be able to help our farmers access information and assist them,’ she said.
Another big challenge for Niue residents is non-communicable diseases brought on by poor dietary habits. ‘Our solution is getting more Niueans maintaining their connection to the land through farming. If they plant their own nutritious food, they won’t be so dependent on processed products’ advised Maryanne.
Organic agriculture can provide financial stability by adding value to farm products while at the same time tackling the challenges of health through better nutrition, chemical avoidance and climate change mitigation.
‘I enjoy watching my plants grow and working on the soil to make them grow. We are connected to nature. We belong to the land. That’s what we are given by our parents. From the land we can make money, but we must also keep it for our children and pass it on as a gift’– she says with a firm resolution.