Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

16 October 2022

World Food Day

Shelley Burich

"When the borders closed, I had to find a way to keep my business generating products and getting it outside of Samoa."
28/09/2022

Samoa

When Shelley Burich started growing vanilla some 15 years ago, it was merely a hobby next to her full-time job as CEO of a charity in her native Samoa. She learned by doing, growing her first vines under the shade of trees in her garden before building her own greenhouse. 

Growing vanilla takes time and expertise, she says – all the flowers are hand pollinated and plants take five years to yield their first crop. 

“We are an organic vanilla farm,” she explains, which means she also makes her own mulch and fertilizer out of coconut husks and bananas. 

The goal is to produce beans with high grades of vanillin – the higher the vanillin, the better the quality. And that process requires constant care. 

Today, Shelley is the only commercial vanilla farmer in Samoa taking care of 500 vines and a successful online business that sells boutique products to customers who care for quality.  

“My products are now being sold to Ireland, Japan, Canada, New Zealand… they are going all over,” she says.  
“We export our premium beans, and from the other beans I make value added products, like syrups, extracts and vanilla powder.”  

Unexpectedly, the pandemic pushed her business forward.  

“Before COVID, I was relying a lot on tourists coming to the islands – people looking to visit the vanilla farm,” she recalls. “When the borders closed, I had to find a way to keep my business generating products and getting it outside of Samoa.” 

Shelley moved smartly. First, she took an online course in e-commerce for indigenous women. Then she set up her Shopify store and began marketing her beans and syrups on social platforms.  

In 2021, in just four months she made the same income she made the entire year before.  

Now, she is hosting online lessons of her own and, for a small fee, teaching people all over the world how to grow vanilla. She plans to keep her niche as a producer of small batches of exceptional quality vanilla in the Pacific.  

Instead of expanding her own farm, she is helping other women in Samoa get into the business, visiting their land to advise on infrastructure and provide their first vines.   

Her message to other women? “Do not let the challenges stop you.” 

Shelley has also been working with FAO and the University of the South Pacific (USP) Samoa Campus to train small-scale vanilla farmers, with a focus on women growers, in order to strengthen and scale up vanilla production in Samoa.  

Read the full story on IPS News.