Royal Spice Gardens:
Our Focus On Vanilla
Royal Spice Gardens, is an ethical company that undertakes activities that are beneficial to the community and the environment, all the while remaining financially sustainable.
In the following sections you’ll find heaps of interesting information about Vanilla and why it is our key focus area.
Where We Began
In 2016, Dwitra J Ariana, a winner of several International awards for his documentaries, made a well-researched film on Indonesian agriculture, which came to focus on Vanilla. Inspired by the unique orchid and its potentials, Dwitra decided to give up filming and grow vanilla on his family farm. The following year, friends introduced Dwitra to Rex Sumner, who invested in his modest Vanilla operation.
Born in Indonesia, Rex Sumner has a deep understanding of the Indonesian Psyche, gained from almost 5 decades residing and doing business in the region. Additionally, Rex is the assistant to Raja Samu Samu, who is the Secretary General of SILATNAS (the Indonesian Association of Rajas, Sultans and Datuk). SILATNAS is tasked by the Government to nurture the culture of Indonesia.
Given his experience, Rex believes that art, music, & dance are faltering due to the modern-day impoverishment of Indonesian Farmers. This premise is based largely on the fact that farmers are the mainstay of culture in agricultural societies (of which, Indonesia is still largely comprised) and, that low priority is paid to the arts, when one is struggling to pay for education or put food on the table. Within that context, Rex set about persuading Indonesian Farmers to grow alternative crops to rice, rubber etc. and focus on more valuable crops such as Vanilla.
After successfully influencing a group of Farmers to look at crop substitutions, Rex desired to make a more significant impact in the region.
In 2017, he drafted the concept of what is now Royal Spice Gardens. In 2020, after three years of experimenting with growing techniques and refining the business plan, Rex and Dwitra formally launched Royal Spice Gardens Indonesia, with the support of Indonesian Royalty.
In the same year and keeping in stride with RSGs ideals, the company began growing Vanilla on a commercial scale. That strategic direction was chosen so as to create a sustainable financial footing, assist local communities and create a positive environmental impact rapidly.
RSG maintains financial resilience and sustainability through exceptional agricultural practices, proactive farm management, premium crop quality, cash crop diversity and a solid business acumen.
With many thousands of small holdings Bali’s rich volcanic soil and efficient low-tech farming obviously play a key roll in feeding the population. In addition, farming directly impacts – and is impacted upon by – its cultural character. Maintaining local customs and traditions while educating in the methods of environmentally sound agricultural management are all essential to nurturing a vibrant culture.
RSGs tertiary objective is to promote and educate Farmers in the methods of environmentally sound agriculture. Whether one calls this permaculture, organic gardening or whatever, RSG actively engages Farmers to care for the soil and to combine conservation with farming. This means no pesticides or inorganic fertilisers, but rather the use of natural fertilisers, companion planting and the efficient use of water.
- To restore the kingdoms of Indonesia, including the conservation of a healthy environment, the wellbeing and income of the people and the restoration &nurturing of the culture.
- To improve the quality and quantity of Indonesian exports from Indonesia,while working closely with reputable Rajas, Sultans and local communities and providing consistent income.
- Ensure that Indonesian Spices are once again, highly acclaimed globally for their quality and exclusivity.
History Of Vanilla
History states that Vanilla was first cultivated on the east coast of Mexico during the Aztec Era (15th Century) by the Totonac people. It was then taken into Europe by Spanish conquistador, Hernán Cortés in the 1520’s.
Until the mid 19th century, Mexico was the main producer of vanilla. This 300-year reign was all thanks to the small native Melipona bee that was thought to be the only bee that could pollinate the vanilla orchid. Despite the best efforts of European botanists, these bees proved impossible to nurture overseas and so whilst the vines would grow, they would never fruit outside of Mexico.
It was in 1836 that botanist, Charles Francoise Antoine Morren, whilst drinking coffee on his patio in Papantla, Mexico, observed the black bees flying around the vanilla flowers on his table. He watched their actions closely as they landed, worked their way under the flap inside the flower, transferring the pollen in the process. Within hours, the flower closed and several days later, vanilla pods began to form. With this knowledge, Morren began experimenting with artificial pollination. However, his methods proved to be too costly and were never commercially adopted.
A few years later, in 1841, in the Reunion Islands in the Indian Ocean, a botanist explained the pollination problem to a gifted young slave by the name of Edmond Albius. Edmond dissected the flowers and made educated guesses about their pollination and learned you could squish together the male and female parts of the flower. In a few months, the plants were full of vanilla pods. This news of successful pollination that had eluded scientists for so long rocked the world; subsequently, plants and pollination instructions were disseminated throughout the globe.
That discovery led to the tropical orchids being sent from the Reunion Islands to the Comoros Islands, the Seychelles and Madagascar. By 1898, between them, they were producing 200 tonnes of vanilla beans – which was about 80% of the worlds production in that year. By 1900, Vanilla had made its way to Indonesia, beginning cultivation in Java, then Bali and Nusa Tengara.
Today, Madagascar and Indonesia are the largest producers of vanilla by some margin. In 2018, they accounted for 2/3rds of the world’s 7,575 tonnes of vanilla production – 41% and 30%, respectively [source: Wikipedia. Nov 2020]
Promising Future Of Vanilla
Vanilla is one of the most coveted agricultural products in the world. With prices reaching $600/kg, it’s the second most expensive spice, after Saffron. However, its’ value has seen fluctuations over the decades.
Production in Madagascar, the largest supplier of vanilla, suffered greatly due to poor weather, with cyclones ravaging croplands in the 70’s, 00’s and more recently, in 2017 and 2018. The resulting decrease in supply pushed prices up.
Conversely, political instability and a glut of imitation vanilla into the market caused prices to drop to just $20/kg in 2010. The market has since recovered and stabilised and is currently seeing prices around the $350/kg -$500/kg mark.
Indonesia suffered its own reputational and quality problems in the early 2000’s. As prices rose because of the troubles in Madagascar, such was the value of vanilla in the global markets that unscrupulous practices started to emerge such as falsely increasing weight with the use of mercury and nails, as well as, harvesting the vanilla pods at 4 months instead of 9 months, drastically reducing the quality of the beans.
As a result, exports dropped significantly. It’s taken almost 10 years for Indonesia to rebuild its’ reputation through good practices, once again becoming a leader in the export of quality vanilla.
Indonesia now produces around 2,400 tonnes of vanilla a year and is second only to Madagascar in terms of global supply. Thanks to its favourable tropical climate, traditional farmlands aplenty and local appetite, many thriving plantations can be found in Java, Bali and East Nusa Tenggara, once again reaffirming Indonesia as a top exporter of quality vanilla.
A key item in Royal Spice Garden’s ethical product lines is high quality Indonesian Vanilla. For investors that want to see sound returns, but also make a difference to the community, we invite you to download an ethical investor snapshot today.
Vanilla, A Valuable Commodity
Fundamentally, Vanilla is labour intensive to produce, requiring a high degree of precision and nurturing. This intensive process, along with fluctuations in supply is what makes it so expensive.
To you give you a better picture, we’ve outlined the process of successful vanilla growing below. Simply click on any of the steps below for more detail.
Vanilla requires specific conditions to thrive. The land required is at an elevation of 500m with high humidity, ideally near a river.
Once the land is levelled, 10cm high raised beds with rich compost are created, with rows of Gamal trees planted every half metre.
Gamal trees are the perfect hosts for the vanilla orchid vines. They make great compost, grow easily and their leaves have fungicidal properties. This, along with correct drainage practices are our primary protection against fusarium – the single biggest threat to the survival of the vanilla vines.
After 3 months, the Gamal trees will have grown enough to give adequate shade to enable us to plant our vanilla shoots. These small shoots grow at the rate of one leaf per week.
Upon reaching our desired height, we fold the top parts of the vine downwards and it continues to grow. Then, we circle it back up again and so on. Each time rooting it to the compost to encourage growth.
Over the next three years, our process ensures the vines stay at easily accessible heights for the farmers and also prevents Fusarium from taking hold.
After 3 years, the vanilla vines have adapted and flourished on their host, the Gamal tree. We heavily prune the Gamal trees, exposing the vanilla to the sun. In the coming months, the sun brings the vanilla orchid to bloom.
The flower only lasts for one day and so as soon as it opens, we have to hand pollinate on that very same day –ideally before 9am.
Vanilla orchids are hermaphroditic meaning they carry both male and female organs. A membrane separates these organs and it’s this that we have to carefully lift to then carry out the manual pollination.
If successful, the flowers will begin to fruit, with each vanilla orchid flower producing one bean. Each vine produces around 20 flowers over the course of 20 days. To ensure the quality of our beans and a good harvest, we only pollinate 5-6 flowers on the vine and only the first flowers to open to ensure the beans are of a similar age.
After the initial 3 year period, a further 9 months passes for the vanilla pod maturation. From there, the beans are harvested and immediately frozen to stop the enzymatic process.
Harvesting vanilla is as labour intensive as hand pollinating the individual flowers. Each pod ripens in its own time requiring daily checks to make sure the bean is harvested at precisely the optimum time. Each pod must be picked by hand before it begins to split on the end but not earlier. The longer it matures, the more vanillin is present, but if it actually splits, all the quality is lost. Tricky. They are then taken to the factory to be dried, fermented and matured into rich, high-quality vanilla pods.
After a total of 3 years and 9 months has passed since the initial plantings, the cured Vanilla pods are ready for export
In general, vanilla pods are graded based on their length, appearance (colour, sheen, splits and blemishes) and moisture content.
The most important variant is the percentage of vanillin. Currently ’A Grade’ Indonesian vanilla is organic, at least 17cm long with a moisture content of between 30% – 35% and around 3% vanillin.
At Royal Spice Gardens, our target is to produce ‘gourmet’, Grade A quality vanilla at lengths of 20cm’s with a minimum moisture content of 30%, vanillin content of 5%+, fully fermented, black, supple and with a strong aroma.
Royal Spice Gardens & Vanilla
At Royal Spice Gardens, we’re passionate about our Triple Bottom Line (TBL) approach to business. We believe our Financial, Cultural and Environmental Sustainability focus represents a sound ethical investment opportunity.
With a projected compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4.7% between now and 2026, Vanilla is considered to be a valuable crop with strong investment potential. As such, our strategy focuses on vanilla at its essence; complimented by a CCC (Companion Cash Crop) offset to help smooth out the peaks and troughs of our main crop.
Our farming practices support the local culture and the environment, as well as the production of top-quality vanilla and thus, maximum TBL returns.
- We work with local farmers to educate on new & sustainable methods, including the use of organic alternatives to pesticides and fertilisers.
- We train our farmers and younger generations to ensure a culturally and financially sustainable future of land and export management.
- We employ a profit share model to encourage participation, best practice and fair remuneration for all.
- Our diversified strategy of multi-crop holdings compliments the typical Balinese small holding and multi-species farming practices, ensuring we support existing farmers and continue local traditions.
- And our focus on achieving ‘A grade’ Vanilla means we implement critical factors to a high-quality end product and thus, maximum returns when going to market.
We currently have 15 farms already in production in the central region of Bali. Our plan is to release 5 new plots for investors, per month, up to a total of 200 plots, each with the ability to host 1,000 vanilla plants.