When the Aztecs subdued neighboring tribes in former times, they asked tribute in the form of vanilla. Also in today's times this delicious spice is in such high demand that farmers brand their vanilla beans in order to prevent theft. But for Sitti Djaouharia Chihabiddine, the energetic femal entrepreneur of Rapunzel's HAND IN HAND partner Vaniacom as well as for her Comorian staff and suppliers, the cultivation of organic and fair-trade Bourbon vanilla is a real blessing.
The Comoros, a tropical island state in the Indian Ocean, are poor. That's why many locals seek their fortune abroad. But thanks to the fair-trade project with Rapunzel, many people on the islands have new perspectives.
Vaniacom in short
Processing company located on the Comoros; the company has nine permanent employees and nine seasonal workers
Cooperation with approx. 220 peasants, of whom 84 participate in the HAND IN HAND program
Organic certification since 2000, since 2001/2002 cooperation with Rapunzel, HAND IN HAND partner since 2018
Cultivation of organic Bourbon vanilla on the islands of Ngazidja and Mohéli, processing at company headquarters in Moroni
A strong woman: Vaniacom entrepreneur Sitti Chihabiddine is highly esteemed by the vanilla farmers
Daily maintenance of the plots
On the islands in the Indian Ocean, Bourbon vanilla is often cultivated in large plantations that are owned by French shareholders. At Vaniacom on the Comoros, however, every peasant benefits from the vanilla harvest, because the smallholders grow vanilla on their own plots. The vanilla plants – a tropical Orchid species – grow on supportive trees that are cultivated in mixed culture with coconut, mango, sugar cane, nutmeg, bananas and other plants. The peasants use the different crop plants that grow in mixed culture; only the exquisite Bourbon vanilla is sold.
Eine starke Frau: Vaniacom-Unternehmerin Sitti Chihabiddine wird von den Vanille-Bauern geschätzt.
Compared to Mexico, the home of the vanilla plant, the Comorian peasants must pollinate every flower by hand.
The flowering time lasts one month. During that time, the plots must be regularly inspected, because the vanilla flowers stays open for only eight hours before they fade! Therefore, it is not surprising that diligent peasants inspect their vanilla plants twice a day during the flowering period in order not to miss this important time.
Bourbon vanilla from Vaniacom grows in mixed culture with many different plants
Rapunzel Purchasing Director Helga Mang tries to pollinate a vanilla flower.
Mature vanilla beans – that are still green and non-aromatic – are harvested depending on their flowering and maturation time in the months of June, July or even at a later time. Vaniacom buys the beans and picks them up by truck. In order to being able to trace back the beans to their respective place of origin, Vaniacom stores the beans in separate lots until final processing.
Manual labor with extremely high requirements
At company headquarters in Moroni, Vaniacom processes the green vanilla beans. While the cultivation and the harvest of vanilla already require utmost conscientiousness, the fermentation and the drying processes require even greater diligence.
At first, the vanilla beans are fermeted. For that purpose, the employees have to dip the beans into hot water for a short time. Subsequently, the beans are stored for 24 hours in crates that are lined with woollen blankets and gunnysacks.
In the next step, the vanilla beans are dried in the sun. For several days, they are stored on woolen blankets in the open air. In case of rain, the employees have to quickly collect the beans and have to restart the drying process.
The next processing step requires even more patience. In the storehouse, the vanilla beans are dried on grates. During the drying process, the beans are checked every day for mould formation – over the course of more than half a year! Finally, the beans are packed in wax paper-lined crates for another four weeks. If the final mould inspection was negative, the workers classify the vanilla beans – based on color, humidity, length and their physical intactness – into four quality categories, pack them into bundles and prepare them for export.
During the long processing time, various mistakes can ruin the exquisite vanilla spice. Mistakes can only be prevented through experience and careful handling. Top-quality and the uninterrupted quality chain is one of Vaniacom's greatest assets. This ensures best quality for Rapunzel products.
Rapunzel Naturkost besucht Sitti Chihabiddine (links) und ihre Mitarbeiterinnen in Moroni.
After the long drying process, the fragrant vanilla beans are bundled.
Rapunzel visits Sitti Chihabiddine (left) and her female co-workers in Moroni.
Good perspectives thanks to fair-trade
Company owner Sitti Chihabiddine is a strong woman. It is very impressive to see how she managed to establish a successful company in an African-Muslim country and how she is respected by the local people. She also uses her energy and passion for helping and supporting others. She takes her role as entrepreneur seriously and wants to develop her home country. The social benefits for her employees exceed legal requirements. As an example, Sitti Chihabiddine provides her female workers with paid maternity leave.
She is also involved in helping her farming partners. Some time ago, she initiated a new project with Ylang-Ylang in order to provide additional income to the farmers. Ylang-Ylang is not only suitable as a supportive plant for vanilla but has also perfect growing conditions on the Comoros and is at the same time one of the few export goods on the islands.
But with the fair-trade bonus from the HAND IN HAND program, Vaniacom can achieve even more. As a first step, the HAND IN HAND partner and the members of the farmers cooperative decided to invest the bonus from the fair-trade program in the development of health insurance and made a dream come true.
The effects of organic fair-trade, however, go far beyond health insurance. In a country where many people think that agriculture is no longer an attractive way of life and that emigration is the only way to escape poverty, HAND IN HAND provides local people a real perspective.
HAND IN HAND products
Bourbon vanilla powder, HAND IN HAND
Bourbon vanilla pods, HAND IN HAND
Bourbon vanilla sugar with Cristallino, HAND IN HAND
Bourbon vanilla sugar with Rapadura, HAND IN HAND
Recipes with HAND IN HAND organic Bourbon vanilla
Tart with pear-apple spread
bread and apple pudding
Raspberry crumb cake
Carrot cake with walnuts and butter cream
Gluten-free biscuit from coconut flour with strawberry topping
Pina Colada Cocktail
Homemade chickpea milk with hazelnut oil
Flourless chocolate cake with coconut blossom sugar